ANALYSIS -- As the President is inaugurated to his second term, it is worth noting that the legacies of two-term President's are rarely what we anticipate them to be.
George W. Bush was first elected as a 'compassionate conservative' with an education agenda who unexpectedly found himself thrust into the 'War on Terror,' including fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But he will most likely be best remembered by historians for what happened in his second term -- his tepid responses to Hurricane Katrina and the economic meltdown.
Bill Clinton sought to make universal health care his legacy, and despite his impeachment in the Monica Lewinsky scandal, is now remembered as the President who led us to relative prosperity and four consecutive federal budget surpluses in his second term.
Ronald Reagan ran on a platform of cutting government taxation and spending, but is remembered best today as the President who liberated millions from communism and ended the Cold War during his second term.
All three of those legacies which emerged in each President's second term were inconceivable during their first four years in office.
So what could Barack Obama's Presidential 'inconceivable' legacy be as he begins his second term? A deeply divided Congress limits what he can accomplish legislatively. Budget stalemates by a President reluctant to cut spending dealing with a Congress unwilling to tax appear likely. Anything the President does accomplish will likely come without the cooperation of House Republicans.
Conceding my crystal ball is as cloudy as anyone else's, here are three potential second-term legacies he could achieve.
Legacy #1: The Energy President. Obama bet big on clean energy by investing billions of stimulus dollars. While some of it produced notorious flameouts like Solyndra, the energy investment has helped fuel leaps in wind, solar, and electric battery technology. Obama's 'hands-off' approach to Bush era oil policies have the U.S. on track to be the largest producer of crude oil in the world not long after he leaves office. The combination of making the midwest the 'Saudi Arabia of wind,' the west the 'Saudi Arabia of solar,' all while producing more oil than Saudi Arabia has the potential to end America's dependence of foreign energy. It would also stop the export of massive amounts of American wealth to OPEC and other oil producing nations. The subsequent economic impact could be enormous.
Legacy #2: The 'War on Terror' President: This goes beyond President Obama's unprecedented use of unmanned drones to hunt down terrorists, no matter who they are or where they are. We also learned in the wake of the Benghazi attacks that the President is employing the CIA in anti-terrorist covert action to a degree many didn't realize before. It would seem unlikely the CIA's hyper-aggressive anti-terror work stops at the Libyan border. Al-Qaida has been substantially weakened as leader after leader at every level has been tracked down and killed. Sponsors or supporters of terror such as Iran, Syria and Yemen are in turmoil and isolated. It's been a largely invisible war, but an effective one.
Legacy #3: The Mideast Peace President: Obama is in a unique position at a unique time when it comes to the mideast. He is the first U.S. President ever to not be an overt defender of Israel, a perspective which is increasingly shared by Americans who are generally supportive of Israel but critical of its conservative, hard-line leadership. What's more, Israel's decision not to invade the Gaza Strip during recent rocket attacks could be a sign of a nation growing weary of the constant deadly threat from beyond its borders. Leaders of Hamas appear to be seeking legitimacy as potlical leaders, not terrorist martyrs. Obama's exposure to Muslims in his youth also gives him a unique perspective among Presidents, and greater credibility in the Arab world when it comes to dealing with the Palestinians. In the past, peace deals have been sunk in part by Arab distrust of American Presidents they suspected were trying to get a better deal for Israel. Obama wouldn't have that problem.
Tomorrow, three 'unseen obstacles' to President Obama's success.