In a Change Election, Obama Offers Continuity

Large majorities of voters say they do not like the direction the country is headed and want change. This may be one of the biggest challenges for President Barack Obama, who is offering voters a continuation of his policies rather than a new agenda for the next four years.

Obama's rival Republican Mitt Romney as well as some pundits have argued that Obama does not have an agenda for his second term. Not so, says liberal Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne.

Obama has been clear, Dionne notes, on what he wants in a budget deal (both spending cuts and tax increases), which is the same budget deal he proposed during the Summer of 2011 debt ceiling negotiations.

Additionally, Dionne says that Obama's agenda includes consolidating the accomplishments of his first term.

"Some dismiss what an Obama second term might achieve by claiming that it will be mainly concerned with consolidating his first-term accomplishments," Dionne wrote. "If these had been trivial, that might be a legitimate criticism. But does anyone seriously believe that implementing a massive new health insurance program that will cover an additional 30 million Americans is unimportant? Can anyone argue that translating the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reforms into workable regulations is a minor undertaking?"

Dionne also points out Obama's desire to pass immigration reform (a 2008 campaign promise), and spend more money on clean energy projects, infrastructure and education (which were part of the 2009 stimulus bill).

While Dionne has cogently identified the Obama agenda, a difficulty for Obama is that his agenda represents continuity at a time when voters say they want change – ironic, considering that "change" was one of his 2008 campaign themes.

In a new NBC-Wall Street Journal poll, 62 percent said that Obama should make "major" changes if given a second term. Only 31 percent said he should make "minor" changes. In the same poll, 53 percent said the country is on the wrong track while only 41 percent said the country is headed in the right direction.

In discussing the poll results on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" Monday, Mark Halperin, senior political analyst for Time Magazine, explained, "in that poll, people are saying they want to see changes in a second term agenda and [Obama is] not talking about change, he's saying, 'give me four more years to finish what I've started.'"

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