The Inevitable Barack Obama Comeback
Reports of Barack Obama's political death are greatly exaggerated and wildly premature.
In today’s Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer warns his fellow Republicans not to start picking out West Wing offices just yet:
In the political marketplace, there’s now a run on Obama shares. The left is disappointed with the president. Independents are abandoning him in droves. And the right is already dancing on his political grave, salivating about November when, his own press secretary admitted Sunday, Democrats might lose the House.
I have a warning for Republicans: Don’t underestimate Barack Obama.
Consider what he has already achieved. Obamacare alone makes his presidency historic. It has irrevocably changed one-sixth of the economy, put the country inexorably on the road to national health care and, as acknowledged by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus but few others, begun one of the most massive wealth redistributions in U.S. history.
Second, there is major financial reform, which passed Congress on Thursday. Economists argue whether it will prevent meltdowns and bailouts as promised. But there is no argument that it will give the government unprecedented power in the financial marketplace. Its 2,300 pages will create at least 243 new regulations that will affect not only, as many assume, the big banks but just about everyone, including, as noted in one summary (the Wall Street Journal), “storefront check cashiers, city governments, small manufacturers, home buyers and credit bureaus.”
Third is the near $1 trillion stimulus, the largest spending bill in U.S. history. And that’s not even counting nationalizing the student loan program, regulating carbon emissions by Environmental Protection Agency fiat, and still-fitful attempts to pass cap-and-trade through Congress.
But Obama’s biggest accomplishment, Krauthammer argues, could be putting the final nail in the coffin of Reaganonmics:
The net effect of 18 months of Obamaism will be to undo much of Reaganism. Both presidencies were highly ideological, grandly ambitious and often underappreciated by their own side. In his early years, Reagan was bitterly attacked from his right. (Typical Washington Post headline: “For Reagan and the New Right, the Honeymoon Is Over” — and that was six months into his presidency!) Obama is attacked from his left for insufficient zeal on gay rights, immigration reform, closing Guantanamo — the list is long. The critics don’t understand the big picture. Obama’s transformational agenda is a play in two acts.
Act One is over. The stimulus, Obamacare, financial reform have exhausted his first-term mandate. It will bear no more heavy lifting. And the Democrats will pay the price for ideological overreaching by losing one or both houses, whether de facto or de jure. The rest of the first term will be spent consolidating these gains (writing the regulations, for example) and preparing for Act Two.
The next burst of ideological energy — massive regulation of the energy economy, federalizing higher education and “comprehensive” immigration reform (i.e., amnesty) — will require a second mandate, meaning reelection in 2012.
Of course, Reagan’s Presidency, and those of Bill Clinton and George Bush, remind us that Second Terms are rarely as successful as as First Terms when it comes to accomplishing an agenda, partly because of the lame duck factor and partly because of sheer inertia. If Obama is re-elected in 2012, he is unlikely to have anything close to the Congressional majorities he has right now and yet, even with those, his agenda has been largely controlled by Congress. I’m not sure that things would be any better from 2013 on word.
Krauthammer’s broader point, however, is correct. Republicans would be foolish to count Obama out now, or even after the 2010 landslide they all seem to think is just around the corner. As Bill Clinton taught us, it is possible for a President to lose Congress and retain the Presidency two years later and, if we somehow do manage to have a strong economy by election time or, if the Republicans manage to nominate the one candidate who would guarantee Obama’s re-election, then Barack Obama will be the comeback kid and Republicans will be left wondering what went wrong this time.