Ross K. Baker: History Lessons for Obama in His Second Term

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Ross K. Baker is a political science professor at Rutgers University and a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors.

Of the 43 men who have served as president, only 16 have been granted a second term. The voters who awarded the fortunate ones with an extended lease on the White House chose them for any number of reasons ranging from greater personal appeal to the incumbent's agenda, or satisfaction with the incumbent's performance.

In President Obama's case, it was a combination of all three. But Obama should look back on history for what might lie ahead. Second-term presidents who planned excessively bold agendas based on perceived mandates, or on freedom from the constraints of having to run for re-election, have stumbled badly.

In fact, the goals of re-elected incumbents rarely comport with what ultimately takes place in the second term. Often, events — rather than anything in the winner's playbook — can take unpredictable directions....

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