Black Americans increasingly feel that it's time to start demanding concrete results from Obama. The thrill of having a black president, and all the good that inherently brings, can't entirely make up for lack of progress on racial issues.
One area in particular is criminal justice. While the Obama administration fought for, and achieved, significant improvements in the mandatory-minimum sentencing laws that were sending small-time urban law-breakers away for years, it has generally taken a hard line on crime and imprisonment, while doing little to improve rehabilitation, job training, and of course the high unemployment rates that are crushing urban black communities.
And then there's guns.
The past four years have arguably been the worst period for gun control in the nation's history — and it happened while Chicago suffered a crisis of gun violence, and the nation took blow after blow from mass shootings. None of it prompted anything more than rhetoric from Obama. Groups like the Brady Campaign — which gave Obama's first term a failing F grade — are teaming up with African-American organizations to start putting pressure on the administration to change course in the second term.
LEVELING THE FIELD
Last year's Occupy movement was, in large part, a response to the lack of a progressive economic agenda in the White House, where Wall Street insiders like Tim Geithner and Ben Bernanke made policy, and progressive Jared Bernstein had been cast off the team, left to whistle into the wind on Twitter and MSNBC.
It took the odd combination of those rag-tag Occupiers and billionaire Warren Buffett — who proposed that millionaires should have to pay an effective tax rate at least as high as their secretaries — to create and popularize not only a rational policy framework for the new economic realities, but the best line of attack against the Republican challenger: the super-wealthy, tax-avoiding Romney.
The question going forward is whether Obama gets it, and will do better for economic equity and justice than progressives felt he did in the last two years of failed negotiations with the flat-earth Republicans.
The first big test — and one progressives are already mobilizing around — comes with the "fiscal cliff" sequestration debate that must be dealt with in the coming months, before across-the-board cuts and tax increases are triggered. And that will be followed by another battle over raising the debt ceiling.
Obama has made clear that he considers the election to have given him a mandate to fix the federal budget through a multi-pronged approach that maintains spending in the short term, contains long-term costs, and, critically, includes additional revenues from taxes on the wealthy.
Frankly, progressives want more.
They want, for instance, to see corporate tax benefits stripped, starting with the ones for giant oil companies.
And they want the administration to directly take on the financial industry that "thumbed their nose at [Obama]" throughout his first term and re-election campaign, as one activist said to me recently.
She, and others like her, want to see Obama beef up Dodd-Frank regulations,and step up pressure for financial institutions to pump money into the American economy. And with the expected early-2013 departure of Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner — whom some Occupiers view as a tool of Wall Street — there will be a close watch on who Obama chooses to succeed him.