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Five Things to Watch for in Obama’s Second Term

The devil’s in the details, but so are the angels. Here are five things on Obama’s agenda you’ll want to keep an eye on—and get active in, too.
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Barack Obama Fair-shutterstock-555.jpg

Okay, folks. Elections are exciting, but now the really hard work begins. We need to turn victories won into something real that works for people and the planet. With a divided Congress, we’re unlikely to see big legislative leaps. Rather, we will see complicated bills. And we’ll see lots of new rules in the executive branch. For both, the devil is in the details. And the angels, too.

It may be boring, but as citizens it’s our job to pay attention to the details. It’s our job to apply pressure where it will move us toward shared prosperity, ecological balance, and deep democracy. Here are five things I’ll be watching for.

Tax code reform. Did you catch it? In Obama’s acceptance speech he laid out three agenda items. Tax code reform was the first. Our tax code is the DNA of our economy. It determines where the money goes: who gets rich and who gets shafted. We’ll need trusted organizations like Citizens for Tax Justice and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities that can follow the complicated details. Then we need to pay attention to where we need to rally.

Obamacare implementation. Repeal of Obamacare is now off the table, which moves implementation to center stage. Watch for the development of “health insurance exchanges”—one-stop shops for health insurance that are supposed to increase transparency and competition. The law says that by 2014 every state must have these in place. Some states have said they’ll defy the law, while others like Washington are moving forward rapidly. We need to make sure these exchanges are done and done right.

Fossil fuels. In his Rolling Stone article, Bill McKibben did the math. The oil in the soil and the coal in the hole (and tar and gas too) are worth trillions. That’s trillions betting on burning up the planet. We won’t get big laws to change this “terrifying math.” But lots of small ones can tip the balance, things like raising fuel efficiency standards, removing fossil fuel subsidies, implementing pollution regulations, investing in renewables, retrofitting, and stopping the pipelines, coal trains, and fracking in our communities. We’re in the fight of our lives on this one. We have a president who dared to mention in his acceptance speech that we have a “warming planet.” There is much that we can do locally and that we can press for nationally and globally. This epic struggle takes a people’s movement that just won’t quit.

Clean elections. The flood of money that soaked this election was obscene. Many of the candidates and issues backed by the biggest money actually lost, but the indebtedness of our system to big funders remains. Look for ways to bring on tough campaign finance rules (momentum is building for a constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United), stop the suppression of the votes of the poor and minorities, and end having secretaries of state who are partisan. Who would trust a referee committed to making sure one team wins? Move to Amend, Public Citizen, Common Cause, Color of Change, and Free Speech for People are trusted sources on these issues.

Wall Street. Yeah, it’s really complicated. But here’s a simple guideline. For anything that touches Wall Street, pay attention to what the new Senator from Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren, says. Whether it’s mortgages, or taxes, or the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or derivatives regulation, Warren understands the system and is a truth teller.

Our job is to make the change we want. We’ve got lots to do in the days and years ahead.


Fran Korten wrote this article for YES! Magazine , a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Fran is publisher of YES! Magazine.

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