Obama will keep his job. This was a close race to be sure, and the margin of victory within the states was small. But in terms of electoral math, it's some pretty decisive stuff. The fact is, despite the still-stagnant economy, the unpopularity of Obamacare, the president's signature achievement, and the high unemployment rates, Americans registered a vote of support for Obama's general policy thrust. And they rejected GOP extremism.
Where this leaves the president on climate and clean energy is less clear. Since the campaigns left climate change out of the conversation, there's no "mandate" for Obama to act; activists and citizens are going to have to push him. But the fact that he's now secured a second term, as well as his health care reform achievement, he may be more persuadable to make a strong drive on climate.After all, extreme weather events are making it painfully clear that global warming is on our doorstep. And New York City Mayor Bloomberg explicitly stated that Obama's willingness to fight climate change as his rationale for endorsing him. Any president with an ego and an eye to the history books—that's all of them—will want to include having acted to combat the world's greatest threat in their legacy.
Furthermore, the right (hopefully) learned a lesson in moderation last night. There are bridges too far—on reproductive health, on clean energy, etc. The Republican party's campaign of pure obstinacy, aimed at denying Obama a second term, has failed. The scorched earth anti-government platform has ultimately proved unpopular. The GOP can, of course, continue to govern as stubborn malcontents, refusing to raise taxes even on the wealthy, denying climate change, and blocking jobs bills.
Or it can consider a new strategy; reach across the aisle to enact and preserve what should be bipartisan aims. Like, for starters, maintaining clean energy tax breaks or ending some federal oil subsidies. Wishful thinking, maybe, but a party licking its wounds from a major defeat may want to regain some public trust by finding viable spheres for compromise.
So, the agenda becomes: wake this man up on climate. Remember, he's still gas-happy, he's still probably leaning towards approving Keystone XL, and he's still opening public lands to fossil fuel interests. He's got to face pushback on each; something 350.org is glad to oblige. The climate action group is already planning a demonstration to remind Obama that Keystone XL would be a disaster for the climate. We'll need more where that came from.
In his acceptance speech, Obama vowed to fight to ensure the nation "isn't threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet." He may have earned a somewhat cleaner slate on which to pursue that promise, but partisan gridlock will again rear its ugly head, and the president will have to work to build the case for action. It's going to be an interesting next few years.