Will Obama take the path of heightened regulation and diminished militarism in his second term? We are unlikely to find an answer by trying to probe his psyche or look for clues in his speeches. It is a mistake to attribute Obama’s shortcomings, as so may journalists do, to his supposed lack of assertiveness, a deep psychological need to find compromise, or too much faith in the judgment of highly credentialed advisors. In fact, even a more aggressive and assertive president could not have accomplished significantly more than he did in his first term. Any liberal Democratic president would operate in a country in which labor unions are weak, other progressive organizations are even less capable at mobilizing voters, and most campaign contributions come from the very wealthy and from corporations that carefully track Congressional votes on the legislation that directly affects their interests. In such an environment, reforms can only be bought with Federal funds that guarantee special interests are held virtually harmless, as was the case with Obamacare. The money for such deals is disappearing as the long recession and tax cut mania, now joined by the sequester, sap Federal revenues.
We need to examine the political pressures that weigh on even a president who will never face the voters again. A reelected Obama remains dependent on a Congress made up of members who still stand in future elections and who as a result are in a continual hunt for campaign funds. The Democratic presidential candidate of 2016 will need contributions and will pressure the Obama Administration not to alienate potential corporate supporters.