Opinion | President Obama’s embrace of liberalism doesn’t matter
Published: Monday, February 4, 2013
Updated: Monday, February 4, 2013 22:02
President Obama used his inaugural address to, as others have noted, tie the progressive tradition to the American idea of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
This was an intellectually ambitious undertaking, and your place on the ideological fence-post will determine whether you saw it as a successful or failed venture. But it’s simply a fact that the President’s political positioning and appointment decisions prove he’s wholeheartedly embraced left-wing orthodoxy. Many centrists were long unwilling to make this distinction, but it’s the truth—and it really doesn’t matter one bit.
The president will lay out his agenda specifically based on the themes he drove in his second inaugural address during his State of the Union address. He’ll talk a big, seemingly politically ambitious game, talking about passing an assault weapons ban, doing big immigration reform (the only thing that could pass), and working to move us forward (said with my tongue planted firmly in my cheek) on a litany of social issues his base cares about.
President Obama has spent his time as president slowly angering his base more and more, as many presidents do. So for someone who loves to be loved, it makes sense that he’d try to appease them when his name will never be on another ballot.
But it’s important to note that anything on President Obama’s domestic policy agenda is dead on arrival in the House. This is a political fact. Roughly 95 percent of the members of the House were re-elected easily. That means there’s no reason for them to stick out their necks politically at all—especially for a president with clear disdain toward them.
And if nothing his base will like can pass the House, then it can’t make it to the president’s desk, and it will not become law.
In the modern era, president’s second terms have often been ruined by scandals and a sour relationship with the Congress. This has meant domestic policy accomplishments have been pretty bare, instead presidents have focused their attention on foreign policy, where they can make a discernable, and most importantly, unilateral difference.
The Obama administration seems unlikely to be caught up in any major scandals, but it’s been running a tutorial on how not to deal with Congress for the last four years.
From the mishandling of massive majorities in the House and Senate in the early years, to the inability to lead and broker a big deal on the debt after the midterm rebuke, it’s clear a president who did not particularly enjoy his time in the deliberative body of the best constructed legislature in the world does not understand how to move legislation through the United States Congress.
And even if he did, the basic constraints of being a lame-duck president would get in his way.
The president may actually know how little a chance he has of passing anything constructive in Congress during his second term.
It would explain why he’s chosen his old deputy national security to be his White House chief of staff instead of a classic Hill operator. It would also explain why his proposals and nominations since his victory have stunk of hubristic liberal overreach.
On the nominations front, Chuck Hagel has embarrassed the administration with his pathetic defense of himself before the Senate this week and John Brennan looks to be in for a contentious ride in his confirmation hearing for CIA director.
And as I already mentioned, Obama’s second inaugural address was chock full of phrases that had focus groups in drug-legalization country salivating, but not chock full of phrases that build legitimate governing coalitions in a divided government.
For better or worse, the president has written off dealing with Congress. Our fiscal crisis certainly presents him the opportunity to buck the trend of a complacent domestic second term, but his always-terrible relations with the legislature are likely forever broken.
The only place any of us should be optimistic is on immigration reform. But that has almost nothing to do with the president. It has everything to do with the demographic imperatives that hit Republicans in the face this past cycle.
In fact, given his track record with Congressional Republicans—he should probably stay away and let the bodies work out a bill both find reasonable, then just sign it and take the win for everybody.
But I’m less optimistic than most. I figure the president will try to embarrass Republicans and insert some sort of legislative poison pill into the bill.
Something that makes it impossible for any House or Senate Republican to support it.
That would be a shame, there’s no point in blocking necessary reform just to completely destroy your opponent, but it would be the ever increasingly bitter Obama way.