The Long Road Forward: Obama's Second-Term Challenges

US President Barack Obama makes a statement about fiscal cliff negotiations from the White House December 31, 2012 in Washing
US President Barack Obama makes a statement about fiscal cliff negotiations from the White House December 31, 2012 in Washington, DC. Lawmakers in Washington continue to work on a last minute compromise to pass legislation to avoid a fiscal cliff of tax hikes and spending cuts in the United State's federal budget. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON -- Just because you beat Mitt Romney -- and John McCain before him -- doesn't mean you're a great president or even a particularly good one.

President Barack Obama has proved to be brilliant at digital organizing and winning elections. But his presidency so far has been less than meets the eye.

He has yet to improve the lives and lot of average Americans; to erect the edifices of health care and banking reform; to enact immigration reform or implement strong new environmental rules; to set a consistent course for our role in the world; or to soothe the corrosive tone of public life in Washington.

Still, the public hasn't abandoned him; he won a convincing victory last November, after all. A new Huffington Post/YouGov poll shows voters modestly hopeful about his chances of being more successful this time around; a combined 64 percent of those polled say they think he will accomplish as much or more in the second term than he did in the first term.

And, given the haplessness of his Republican foes, Obama is in an unusually strong position to deliver on the potential of his second term -- but only if he has the will and wherewithal to turn ballot-box victory into real-life results.

That's the bottom line of an in-depth survey by The Huffington Post of the problems and prospects facing the president as he prepares to place his hand on two Bibles next Monday: the one Abraham Lincoln used in 1861, and the "traveling" one Martin Luther King, Jr., kept at his side.

Today we launch a series of stories giving you results of that survey: 20 reported pieces during the next week, 14 from the U.S. and six from overseas; pairs of expert blog posts published with each domestic story; HuffPost Live video interviews with reporters; and poll data from HuffPost/YouGov.

The most crucial part of any HuffPost project comes after we post it on the site, in the form of comments from our vast and voluble social community. We pioneered a mix of news reporting, social media and community input, and no story we publish is supposed to be the final word. Just the opposite. The stories and blog posts will be available starting today on a Big News Page, and we encourage you to add your take.

Say this about Obama: he likes to be seen as aiming high. His 2012 campaign slogan was one mighty word with a period at the end of it: "FORWARD." So, taking the president at his word -- literally -- we are calling the series "THE ROAD FORWARD: Obama's Second Term Challenges."

Eighteen Huffington Post reporters in Washington and New York, plus six in Canada and Europe, examine how far we have come -- and how far Obama still needs to go to move "FORWARD" into the Promised Land.

Drudges on the right see the president as a malignant and unstoppable force out to utterly transform America. But our reporters found something less apocalyptic. Obama actually has been less daring than he could have been, less systematic than he should have been, and more focused on short-term politics than his lofty, man-of-big-ideas image would suggest.

We start with the middle class, in whose name the president has, fitfully, dedicated his presidency. There is no question that the president helped save the global system of trade and credit from collapse -- a collapse that would have ruined us all, middle class included. Also, as his aides regularly point out, the promise of more widely available health care, subsidized by taxpayers, can make up for some of the downdraft in job and wages.

But reporters Dave Jamieson and Arthur Delaney found that the American middle class -- the cultural and economic mainstay of the country -- is under more pressure than ever, and in some ways farther behind than it was when Obama took office in 2009. Our reporters look at the administration's claims of progress, and its modest targeted plans for a second term, and ask whether he is eager or able to do more.

It's a central question -- if not the central question -- of the Obama presidency.

In the days ahead, we will look at other urgent topics: poverty, education reform, foreign affairs, military tactics, bank regulation, the environment, immigration, the black community, drug policy, health care, Obama's partisan political legacy, his willingness (or lack thereof) to change the tone in Washington and the prospects (or lack thereof) for a grand budget bargain.

We find that Obama has miles to travel on most of these issues. His electoral victories (winning two terms by more than 50 percent of the popular vote each time) place him in the company of presidents like Andrew Jackson, Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. Obama is in the winner's circle, but not yet the "transformational figure" circle.

For most reelected presidents, power fades quickly. That may not be true in Obama's case. Laws he passed in his first term can be implemented without going back to a nettlesome Congress. The world economy could be poised for a new round of growth. His Republican foes are in retreat and disarray. He can back them into a corner or woo them one-by one, as he did recently on the "fiscal cliff." He was a novice at Washington and at the give-and-take of politics four years ago. Now he has a feel for the game.

The deeper question is whether he will be shrewd, persistent and tough enough to turn great promise into true greatness. His critics are of course skeptical. The American people are skeptical, too. A HuffPost/YouGov poll shows that only 37 percent of the American people predict that Obama will be a "great or above average" president. Other polls show that voters still think by a wide margin that the country is on the "wrong track."

But Obama has defied expectations before. And if he can meet the challenges we explore starting today, he will do so again -- and honor the memory of Lincoln and King in a fashion far more profound than a hand on a Bible.

This article is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post that closely examines the most pressing challenges facing President Obama in his second term. To read other posts in the series, click here.

This appears in Issue 33 of our weekly iPad magazine, Huffington, in the iTunes App store, available Friday, Jan. 25.