Obama’s Re-Election

At around 11:15 pm last night, when Rachel Maddow suddenly announced that Obama had won Ohio, putting him over the top, I felt joy, and also relief. A heavy tension lifted from my body, a tension that I’d felt for I don’t know how long — going back to the 2010 midterms, and even before then. Scott Brown’s election in early 2010? Death panels in the summer of 2009? The rise of the Tea Party a few months after Obama took office?

We have a weird system in this country: if you get elected president, you’re a success, but if you serve only one term as president, then you’re a failure. You’re only considered a successful present if you get re-elected. Presidents really start running for re-election the moment they win that first term.

And last night he did it. This man who came seemingly out of nowhere a few years ago to win the presidency in 2008 just did it again. One-term presidents (Carter, Bush I) are a blip; two-term presidents (Clinton, Bush II) get eras named after them. We’re not in the Obama blip; we’re in the Obama era. Now even more kids will grow up under a black president, and they will find nothing extraordinary about it at all.

Here is what I wrote about Barack Obama after he was elected four years ago:

Obama will make mistakes. He has difficult decisions ahead. Our country’s in the toilet. And day-to-day governance is messy, with its daily news cycles, the messy legislative process, wins and losses, Washington sniping, political roundtables on TV. Poetry gives way to prose. In the euphoria of his election and inauguration, Bill Clinton talked about changing the culture of Washington. So did George W. Bush. It never happened.

There will be times I disagree with President Obama, get annoyed at him, disappointed in him. There will be times when the public does as well.

But this is an extraordinary man. And if things are even a smidgen better than they’ve been for the last eight years, we’re in luck.

In retrospect, this seems pretty accurate to me. There have been a few times that I’ve been really pissed off at Obama: after Scott Brown’s election, after the midterms when it seemed like repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was off the table, during the debt ceiling crisis, and most recently about a month ago, when he tanked during the first debate. But I always come back.

During the transition four years ago, when Obama was at the height of his promise and seemed like he’d be truly, remarkably transformative president along the lines of FDR, I read a biography of FDR. Thinking back to that time, happy thoughts mingle in my head — the holiday season, the promise of a revolutionary presidency, a good book.

Now we’re coming upon the holiday season again, and instead of being almost over, it turns out the Obama presidency is not yet even halfway done. (We’re about 47.5% through it, to be specific.) This is probably the happiest time for a two-term president: after getting re-elected, but before the second inauguration. There’s lots of work to do — fixing the fiscal cliff, most importantly — but he also gets to enjoy a moment of triumph.

Here’s Obama’s first press conference as president-elect, four years ago. It reminds me how crappy things were at the time. Things are still improving. But wow, how far we have come.