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Top 5 Issues Barack Obama Must Address in a Second Term

While President Obama’s second term is not assured, the increasingly befuddling state of the GOP primary makes the likelihood of a win that much greater. Assuming a win for the Democrats in November, President Obama has a term unrestricted by a looming re-election campaign in which he can sharpen his focus on five (or more) key issues:

(1) Education: While 94% of parents say they expect their children to attend college, our primary and secondary education standards leave the United States far below those of many other developed countries. President Obama has called countless times for investment in education, and has repeatedly stated that he believes everyone should strive to get a college education, which has been notably criticized by the far right. Yet, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has largely floated under the radar these past four years. His “Race to the Top” initiative, while an innovative method to deliver much-needed education funding to high performing states, has been criticised as largely ineffective and arbitrary in its performance vetting standards. Further, the program continues to receive criticism from civil rights groups, who say that the program ignores low income/opportunity youth from states that fail to receive funding.

In his first term, President Obama, a vocal proponent of education funding and reform, has overseen massive education cuts by states. He has recently called on the National Governors Association to invest more state resources in education to continue improving the country’s competitiveness internationally, and in keeping with his goal of making the United States the country with the highest share of college degrees or certificates by 2020. While education funding is generally a state issue, Obama in his second term would do well to increase his push for education reform: updating/revamping No Child Left Behind, developing alternatives to test and accountability standards, relying less on charter schools to cope with the problems that exist in public education, and putting pressure on the Department of Education to continue to produce innovative strategies to increase opportunities for low income and minority students.

(2) Racial inequality/affirmative action: With affirmative action being taken up by the Supreme Court this year, President Obama will be forced to take a stand on racial and socioeconomic inequality. The fact of the matter is that the United States has not “moved past” the issue of race to argue that race doesn’t matter in the process of college admissions, job hiring or any other quotidian activities in this day and age is ignorant. But the issue of racial inequality is deeply tied to socioeconomic consequences, and cannot merely be resolved by upholding (or striking down) affirmative action. It is something that will require a commitment from President Obama, against discrimination based on factors including race, sexual orientation, disability, and socioeconomic status.

(3) LGBT rights: While the president has overseen one of the most progressive years in American history in terms of LGBT rights, with the passage of same-sex marriage legislation in New York, Washington, and Maryland, President Obama has yet to unequivocally come out in favor of same-sex marriage. There are currently a large host of influential Democratic politicians, including former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Senator John Kerry, and Senator Dianne Feinstein who are joining the effort to get the Democratic Party platform to include an endorsement of same-sex marriage in 2012. President Obama has overseen the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and will most likely have the opportunity to contribute to the repeal of the discriminatory Defence of Marriage Act in his second term. While he may be embraced at fundraising events as a hero for LGBT rights, he will have to put his money where his mouth is after Election Day, and throw his full support behind an issue that has waited too long to be resolved. Fellow Democrats are slowly beginning to call on the president to evolve his opinion on the matter, and support the liberal majority that choose to stand on the side of justice and equality. After re-election is secured, the president will no longer be able to hide behind the political neutrality of an “evolving” opinion on LGBT rights.

(4) Alternative energy: The recent skyrocketing of gas prices will most certainly be one of the issues that make securing re-election for Obama a difficult task in November. Provided he succeeds, he should take the opportunity to increase funding for alternate energy solutions as a response to the discomfort that Americans will have to endure with gas currently at almost $4 per gallon. It is well-known, and has been stated by various economic and energy experts in recent days, that the volatile oil markets don’t have much to do with President Obama’s energy policies. As suggested by fellow pundit Jeff Danovich recently, the Department of Energy should take the opportunity to further incentivise research and development in wind, bio-diesel, electric and solar energies, and begin to wean the oil industry off their costly subsidies.

5. Campaign finance reform: This may be a stretch, but if President Obama’s harsh rhetoric against the Citizen’s United SCOTUS decision is an insight into measures he might take to reform the system, he might take the opportunity to make a real structural change to campaign financing. Many on the liberal side have called for the President to champion this issue, and attempt to make the Supreme Court reverse its position on Citizens United. While the president has already been a huge beneficiary of Super PAC funding, which will undoubtedly propel him through a expensive election in November, a second term would give the president an opportunity to truly champion an issue that has the potential to change the political climate from one that puts government at the whim of corporations and soft money.

Photo Credit: Barack Obama

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