Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Obama will get little time to celebrate

By David Rothkopf, Special to CNN
updated 11:00 AM EST, Wed November 7, 2012
President Obama's victory means that he gets to confront some urgent and long-term issues, says David Rothkopf.
President Obama's victory means that he gets to confront some urgent and long-term issues, says David Rothkopf.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • David Rothkopf: Winner of the presidential race facing urgent crises
  • He says the winner has to pick his team for next four years, deal with fiscal cliff
  • But the biggest challenge facing White House is the economy and inequality, Rothkopf says
  • Rothkopf: America's challenges can be overcome, but not if partisan gridlock gets in the way

Editor's note: David Rothkopf is CEO and editor-at-large of the FP Group, publishers of Foreign Policy Magazine, and a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

(CNN) -- It hardly seems fair.

After a grueling campaign, Barack Obama will have virtually no time to celebrate his re-election. Enormous challenges await.

For the victor and his party, there are many signs this may someday be seen as the "be careful what you wish for" election.

David Rothkopf
David Rothkopf

Some of those challenges are well known and frequently discussed. Within days if not hours, the president will have to turn his attention to assembling and finalizing the team that will be at his side for the next four years. In addition, the fiscal cliff looms, as do critical decisions about whether -- and how -- to extend the Bush tax cuts.

Share your reactions to the election outcome

Beyond these most apparent immediate challenges there are a host of other conundrums that will bedevil Tuesday's winner for months if not years to come.

How can the United States create jobs more quickly? How can Iran be stopped from gaining nuclear weapons? How can we contain the threat of spreading unrest in the Middle East? How can we get China to play by the rules of fair trade?

Can we do something to help prevent an EU meltdown from taking place and hammering the still fragile U.S. economy? What about immigration reform? Fill in your favorite pressing issue here: education reform, reducing the budget deficit, addressing flaws in the health care system, speeding up approvals of big new energy projects. There is an agenda for everyone and an army of special interest lobbyists in Washington raring to get back to work.

Opinion: Five things Obama must do

But these issues, formidable and contentious as they are, are really just the tip of the iceberg. Beneath the surface there are far greater questions that many in Washington will be less inclined to address, or even give any attention at all. But it is really these more profound challenges and how we adapt to them that will ultimately determine how the next administration is judged and indeed, how we are judged as a generation.

At the core, the deeper challenges have to do with what must change in order for America to keep growing and leading as we have for generations. The problems we must fix are deep, complex and interrelated.

15 year old Obama campaign volunteer
How the GOP kept the House
CNN projects Obama victory

We are not able to grow our economy as we have in the past. That does not just mean we are unable to provide the jobs that perhaps as many as 25 million Americans want but cannot get. It also means that the wages those jobs pay are not rising fast enough, that we are not training workers for the jobs that may be available, and that across our society inequality is growing as never before in our history.

Opinion: Obama's victory won't transform America

In our cities, roughly half of minority students never finish high school and thus are consigned to lives of deprivation and frustration.

At the other end of the spectrum, and regardless of your political affiliation, you must acknowledge the social risks created when the top 1% benefit so disproportionately to the rest of a population. From 1979 to 2007, the income of the top 1% grew more than four times faster than any other group.

Despite what you may have heard during the political campaign, however, these are not problems that necessarily can be solved by invoking the political formulas of the past — cutting taxes or increasing social programs.

The world has changed. America will never get back the manufacturing jobs that once were the bedrock of our middle class. It is not just that some have been outsourced overseas. Most have been outsourced to the past. Automation and enhanced productivity are making it possible for companies to do much more with fewer people.

Opportunities exist for us to create better jobs if we retool for a new era in which we can use our better schools, tradition of innovation, intellectual property protection and cheap domestic energy sources to give us a competitive edge in new industries. But to do so we need to embrace new models, invest in new infrastructure, welcome foreign investment, simplify regulations and tax codes, and fight America's most dangerous special interest group: the anti-change lobby.

But we find ourselves unable to make many of these changes not just because they are big and difficult and not well understood but also because our political system is broken. Look at this most recent campaign season. Six billion dollars spent, vastly more than any other nation in the world spends on political campaigns. But our voter turnout, if this election followed the pattern of recent ones, lagged the standards set by much of the rest of the world.

News: Hot-button ballot initiatives

Much of the money came from shadowy contributions through super PACs and big checks from fat cat "bundlers," giving influence to the few.

Further, for all that, not much was expected to change in terms of the composition of Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill, which is just as our political leaders want it. They have built a system that is good at gridlock, name-calling and blame-gaming and not much else. It is thick with such strategies as gerrymandering districts, fostering extra-constitutional rules on filibustering and using senatorial prerogatives to hold up presidential nominations

A country facing great challenges that has a system resistant to the changes we need is at a dangerous crossroads, one that could determine its future place in the world. Interestingly, tellingly, we are not the only great nation to face such a choice this week.

China, too, the world's second largest economy and most populous country, faces a once-in-a-decade leadership change. While its system is very different, it, too, is designed to allow the few to hold on to power and to resist change. And while our two countries face very different challenges, China also needs its new leaders to confront deeper issues and embrace more sweeping political and economic transformations.

World worries as U.S. fiscal cliff looms

Ironically, as I have traveled across Asia during the past several weeks, many leaders I have spoken to have worried aloud that it is the nation that is best known for openness and for periodic reinvention of itself that has less of a chance of embracing the big changes it needs than the one known for being closed and repressive.

While I don't believe that must be so, it puts the central challenge facing President Obama into perspective. The stakes have never been higher. To meet that challenge our president will have to lead only as great presidents have: confronting his own party as well as the opposition, but most importantly, confronting conventional wisdom and old models and demanding the rarest of all the things Washington produces: real creativity.

This is the time not just for change we can believe in. This is the time for change we can actually see. If not, it could well be that the other leadership change taking place this week, the one taking place on the other side of the world, may be seen as more consequential than that which took place in the United States on Tuesday.

Analysis: Obama won with a better ground game

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of David Rothkopf.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:50 PM EDT, Tue July 29, 2014
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
updated 2:52 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
updated 12:35 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
updated 6:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
updated 11:10 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
updated 11:33 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
updated 8:45 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT