There were some complaints about Obama not doing enough to sketch out an ambitious second-term agenda. This didn’t really bother me, because with Republican control of the House an ambitious agenda is moot. The big legislative achievements of the Obama administration are going to be those of the first term (although I continue to insist that in context they were, in fact, major.)
But this doesn’t mean that the victory — and not just Obama but the Democratic retention of the Senate, which was less likely two years ago — wasn’t important. The most important of his domestic achievements will now be implemented, and once in place will be nearly impossible to repeal. (The paradox of health care reform in the United States — that the insured majority are generally happy with their insurance although the system as a whole is dysfunctional and inequitable — works in favor of the PPACA once the exchanges are set up and the ban on exclusions based on pre-existing conditions becomes operative.) The Ryan budget is DOA. Ruth Bader Ginsburg can safely retire, and if Scalia and Kennedy is forced out the Court could have a liberalish median vote for the first time since 1969. At least, Roe v. Wade is safe. The judicial branch will, if at too slow a pace, become less dominated by neoconfederates. The DOJ will continue to fight state-level disenfranchisement. And so on. The victories of a second Obama term will largely be defensive and non-legislative — but these count. And since the incumbent party is likely to be in very good shape in 2016, this matters for more than the next four years.
And the election of Warren and Baldwin is also important. The Democrats need a larger base of real progressives from the states where they can be elected; there needs to be more Browns and fewer Feinsteins. Obama can start by taking the hint of Warren’s election and getting someone better as Treasury Secretary.