msnbc | January 06, 2013
>>> president barack obama will be sworn in for a second term at his inauguration in two weeks. both elections proved to be historic, not just the man himself, but for what he has done in the first four years. from the auto industry rescue to health care reform to the killing of osama bin laden and many more accomplishments, president obama 's place in history is certainly assured, but how much more will his second term bring? joining me, nbc news presidential historian michael beschloss . god to see you.
>> same here, alex.
>> let's talk about the debt ceiling fight because that seems to be front and center. could that be a legacy trap for the president? could that rob him of his image to redefine relationships with republicans?
>> oftentimes, second term presidents wish for a minute they hadn't kept the job, but only for a minute. often, they're amazed how little power they have with congress. lbj in '65 in an enormous landslide controlled both houses of congress. yet he said my first year i have exactly six months to get what i want passed. if you look back at the great society, most of that was passed in the first six months of his term.
>> when nbc's david gregory asked the president to name a single goal for the next four years.
>> there are a couple of things we need to get done. i've said that fixing our broken immigration system is a top priority. the second thing we've got to do is stabilize the economy and make sure it's growing. number three, we've got a huge opportunity around energy. we are producing more energy, and america can become an energy exporter.
>> this is clearly an ambitious president. again, david said, just one goal please, sir, and he gave three right there. let's go ahead and add on the agenda gun control , rebuilding infrastructure, preventing tax hikes. the immigration. any of these issues, do you see as being his legacy legislation? do you see that as being the things he will be most remembered for?
>> depends how it turns out. but you know, you mentioned gun control and public safety . if it had not been for newtown, that would not have as high a place on this agenda. that's another factor here. we can't predict what kind of crises might emerge during the next four years. oftentimes, presidents are remembered for how they respond to votes.
>> look at george w. bush right there.
>> how many big items can a second term president actually get through?
>> usually a president has to be extremely sparing. ronald reagan in his second term did tax reform with the congress. he also did what many second term presidents do, which is to say i have limited influence with congress, and certainly not after my first or second year of this term. i'm going to turn to foreign policy and do a lot of things that i can do without congress' sanction.
>> i want to ask you also about the relationship between president and vice president. i know you've studied at great length the relationship between jfk and lbj.
>> and the very different working relationship between president obama and vice president biden. i mean, we look at just recently the vice president did at the end of the year, helping negotiate the fiscal cliff deal, actually probably was doing that on new year's actually.
>> how about vice president biden be beneficial to this president these next four years?
>> i think he's proved it this week. jfk had the master of the senate famously, lyndon johnson , as his vice president. never wanted to use him on the hill because he thought that johnson would freelance too much on his own and get out of kennedy's control, maybe even take kennedy's own influence away from him in congress. barack obama does not have that kind of insecurity, and the result is that he's been able to use joe biden on the hill in a way that he would not have been able to operate had he done this on his own.
>> coming into you, michael, we mentioned that it is the week long celebration, centennial celebration of president nixon 's birth. is his legacy going to forever be the watergate scandal and his resignation?
>> i think with nixon you always have to have a split screen. half of it is going to be watergate. this is the first president who had to resign possibly to avoid prison over things that certainly would have had him convicted and thrown out of office. on the other side, you have to look at his other accomplishments, epa and foreign policy , certainly the opening to china, which seems more and more important every year.
>> i was going to say pick up on china. at one point, wasn't he regarded, as most presidents are, as the most powerful man in the world, the way he opened that up. if you look at that legacy these 40 years later, where would he be without that path being opened?
>> that shows you why historians have to wait 30 or 40 years or more because we could not know that in 1972 . let's say 40 years from now china becomes hypothetically, has the motive or ability to be a national security threat to the united states , if that happens, future americans, future historians will look back at each of these presidents and say what could they have done to avert that?
>> michael, to ask you finally, with this president being elected the first black american to be elected president, is this something that will actually be a postscript, you think, 40, 50 years from now, we'll look at his accomplishments. while that is significant, no doubt, the accomplishments are what he'll really be remembered for.
>> look at john kennedy as a model. he was the first catholic american to become president. when you think about him, when historians write about him, that's not by any means the first thing they say. one thing that barack obama has done in opening the door is to make the fact that he's an african-american less important later on.
>> okay. michael beschloss , always great talking to you.