Obama has been declared a winner, but now the real work of this second term president begins. Here's a list of the key things Obama should do starting on day one:
1) Fight climate change
When Obama accepted the Democratic nomination in 2008 he promised that if the US committed to it, the moment would come when "the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal." That did not happen during the president's first term. But his second will provide a make or break moment for the world to take meaningful action to prevent catastrophic climate change.
The US, which consumes more than 20% of the world's energy despite having less than 5% of its population, has continually shirked leadership on climate. But the world has assigned a deadline for collective action: 2015. Obama can support that process and break the oil industry's grip on climate policy by ending fossil fuel subsidies (something Obama has supported), and help drive through a fair, ambitious and binding climate treaty. After Hurricane Sandy's trail of destruction up the east coast, how can the president remain silent?
2) Get big money out of politics
Private money has always played too big a role in US politics. But in this election cycle things got completely out of hand. Thanks in large part to the supreme court's 2010 Citizens United decision – allowing corporations, individuals and unions to spend unlimited amounts of cash – more than $6bn was spent trying to influence the 2012 US election.
Both Obama and Romney benefitted from this cash flow, but now Obama has the power to turn it off. It's hard to keep faith in a democratic system when a corporation has the power to swing elections with money. Obama can restore faith in – and avert disaster for – US democracy by championing a 28th amendment to overturn Citizens United and limit campaign spending.
3) Let the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy expire
This one's a no-brainer – and something the president has vowed to do already. President George W Bush passed tax cuts for most Americans early in his administration. Keeping that low tax rate on the wealthiest Americans during a biting economic crisis and slow recovery has been madness.
Yes, many rich Americans took a hit in the early days of the financial crisis, but unlike their less wealthy neighbours they have recovered – and then some. So extending Bush's tax cuts for income over $250,000 is now both ridiculous and offensive to tens of millions of hard-working Americans. All Obama has to do is not extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, and he'll save the government $1 trillion over 10 years. Oh, and in so doing, he will restore a sense of fairness to US tax policy.
4) End the drug war
The presidents of Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico have bravely called for a new direction in the war on drugs. Now it's time for Obama to do the same thing. Obama is in a unique position to champion a change of this disastrous US-led policy – one that has cost hundreds of thousands of lives, billions of dollars and has failed by every imaginable metric.
US drug enforcement policy is senseless. Traffickers and addicts alike are locked up, not rehabilitated or treated, streets are militarised, communities broken. The US has the largest prison population in the world – 25% of those under correctional control are nonviolent drug offenders. And south of the US the war rages: 60,000 people have been killed in Mexico in just six years, and central American countries regularly post some of the world's highest homicide rates.
Real policy change in the US will mean new laws at the state and federal level, and a broad social push in support of decriminalisation (something many citizens already support). People are seeing the cracks and cost of this crazy policy. Change could happen quite fast, and Obama needs to lead it. He should start right now by admitting that the drug war has failed and a new course is needed.
5) Introduce Palestine
Whether it's deserved or not, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has come to symbolise intractable crisis and global leadership impotence. Talks are at a complete standstill: Israel, through its settlers, continues to colonise the occupied West Bank, and Palestinian leaders remain uselessly divided.
There are a growing number of voices despairing of the possibility of the two-state solution, the two decade old standard peace project that aims to achieve Palestine and Israel living in security side by side. But there may be one last hope to rescue it.
The head of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, will take his people's bid for statehood back to the UN this month. That means that the US, Israel's closest ally and patron, will have one more opportunity to revive the vital two-state solution by supporting Abbas's initiative. So far, the US has blocked it. But Obama clearly has sympathy for the Palestinian people and some tension with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu. Obama can and should introduce Palestine to the community of nations.
6) Stop killing people with drones
It was a signature boast during Obama's re-election campaign: I am the president who "got" Bin Laden. But behind that swagger lies a terrifying premise: that the US asserts the right to kill whoever it chooses, far outside war zones, by whatever means necessary.
Since coming to power, Obama has dramatically scaled up the rate of drone attacks in north-west Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere, using robot weapons to strike at suspected insurgents – but likely killing hundreds of children and civilians in the process. Many of his advisers see this new mode of warfare as key to winning the so-called "war on terror", particularly as ground engagements in Afghanistan draw to a close. (Obama has committed to pulling troops out by 2014.) The president takes personal responsibility for the weekly "kill list" of strike targets, and despite heavy criticism by legal and human rights groups his commitment to the policy appears unwavering.
This is a disaster. Not only is the president sanctioning extrajudicial killing (with terrifying implications for the rest of the world) and creating a daily nightmare for 800,000 Pakistanis. Drone strikes are also dangerously counterproductive. Instead of eliminating the threat to the US, drones are one of the best recruitment tools for extremists. The resentment, anger and fear they provoke has skyrocketed suspicion and mistrust of the US in Pakistan to a record high. (No prizes for guessing the only country in the world to favour Mitt Romney over Obama in the election, even though Romney has also praised the drones policy.)
Even if you trust Obama's motive on this one – to keep the US safe – the fact is, drone strikes do the opposite. It's past time to end this chilling, cynical form of warfare.
What else should Obama do to start his second term? Share in the comments below.
Sources: Huffington Post, Avaaz, Guardian, Bloomberg, Politico, Elections not Auctions, CNN, Firedog Lake, Al Jazeera, Gallup, Wikipedia, Xinhua