The media’s obsession with US elections

Instead of speculating on future campaigns, we should concentrate on what the president will do next.

I have to tell you I came very close to throwing a good amount of money for damages at the Hyatt Hotel in McCormick Place, Chicago, this morning. I almost threw a shoe at the television in my hotel room. I also pondered throwing a lamp and hairbrush for good measure.

I’m not usually prone to uncontrollable outbursts of anger, but this time, it was almost justified. Why? Not even a few hours had passed since the election was called for US President Barack Obama, and the television commentators and pundits couldn’t stop talking about who might run for president in 2016. I’m not joking.  Apparently, it’s a burning issue, who will try to be president in four years.

This country and many in its media have become almost obsessed with covering campaigns. It’s become like a sporting event for politically inclined people. It’s easy to follow and often exciting, but for now it is over. Let me stress that. President Barack Obama has secured another four-year term, and it seems we should be talking about what he does with that time.

I was lucky enough to be in the hall at McCormick Place as the results trickled in. I waited on my media riser (my perch from which I talk into the camera), as thousands of Obama supporters waited for Governor Mitt Romney to publicly acknowledge his defeat, and for the president to address the crowd, the country and the world.

After what seemed like a longer than usual wait, the concession happened. The president took the stage and laid out a few items on his agenda tax reform, the national debt and immigration. That was about as detailed as he got, but then again, you wouldn’t expect Obama to give a detailed policy speech at an election night party. I can’t help but wonder what he is going to try to do in his second term.

And it is during those second terms that presidents often focus more on their long-term legacies. That probably explains why they usually wait so long to try and tackle the tough foreign policy issues – such as the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. So what does the president want the historians to write of his legacy?

From his first term, it’s pretty obvious that he likes the big accomplishments. The healthcare reform law was – to use the vice president’s phrase, “a big … deal” (yes, I left a word out because of our younger readers). So, will Obama go big in his second term and stake more political capital in the process?

It seems that his most pressing issue is bringing the country’s annual deficits and the broader national debt under control. The smart folks who understand the complexity of macroeconomics say he has to focus on that. The question is: “How he can come up with a trillion dollars a year?” A trillion, actually a little bit more than that. That is the difference between what the government takes in and what it spends. That is the amount of red ink the country has created during each of the president’s first four years. He took office in 2008 promising to cut the deficit in half, and he has fallen far short.

I don’t care what anyone in the media says about it, now that the campaign season is over. It seems to me the politicians are going to have to do the things they hate the most, take away services or raise taxes, probably both.

That will make the president very unpopular now, but history may look kindly on a leader who actually puts the country on a sustainable fiscal path. The question is what matters more to the president. We can’t answer that yet, the election, after all, just happened.

It did happen. I was there. It’s over, now it is time for the country and its media to focus on where he tries to take everyone next.

Follow Patty Culhane on Twitter: @PattyCulhane

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