[Rushtalk] No Semblance Of Objectivity.......
John A. Quayle
blueoval57 at verizon.net
Tue Jan 22 13:11:17 MST 2013
Go for the Throat!
Why if he wants to transform American politics,
Obama must declare war on the Republican Party.
Dickerson|Posted Friday, Jan. 18, 2013, at 6:13 PM ET
President Obama, left, and Vice President Biden announce the ad
President Obama, left, and Vice President Biden
announce the administration's new gun law
proposals on Wednesday in Washington, D.C.
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.
On Monday, President Obama will preside over the
grand reopening of his administration. It would
be altogether fitting if he stepped to the
microphone, looked down the mall, and let out a
sigh: so many people expecting so much from a
government that appears capable of so little. A
second inaugural suggests new beginnings, but
this one is being bookended by dead-end debates.
Gridlock over the fiscal cliff preceded it and
gridlock over the debt limit, sequester, and
budget will follow. After the election, the same
people are in power in all the branches of
government and they don't get along. There's no
indication that the president's clashes with House Republicans will end soon.
Inaugural speeches are supposed to be huge and
stirring. Presidents haul our heroes onstage,
from George Washington to Martin Luther King Jr.
George W. Bush brought the Liberty Bell. They use
history to make greatness and achievements seem
like something you can just take down from the
shelf. Americans are not stuck in the rut of the day.
But this might be too much for Obamas second
inaugural address: After the last four years, how
do you call the nation and its elected
representatives to common action while standing
on the steps of a building where collective
action goes to die? That bipartisan bag of tricks
has been tried and it didnt work. People dont
believe it. Congress' approval rating is 14
percent, the lowest in history. In a December
poll, 77 percent of those asked said the way
Washington works is doing serious harm to the country.
The challenge for President Obamas speech is the
challenge of his second term: how to be great
when the environment stinks. Enhancing the
presidents legacy requires something more than
simply the clever application of predictable
stratagems. Washingtons partisan rancor, the
size of the problems facing government, and the
limited amount of time before Obama is a lame
duck all point to a single conclusion: The
president who came into office speaking in lofty
terms about bipartisanship and cooperation can
only cement his legacy if he destroys the GOP. If
he wants to transform American politics, he must go for the throat.
President Obama could, of course, resign himself
to tending to the achievements of his first term.
He'd make sure health care reform is implemented,
nurse the economy back to health, and put the
military on a new footing after two wars. But
he's more ambitious than that. He ran for
president as a one-term senator with no executive
experience. In his first term, he pushed for the
biggest overhaul of health care possible because,
as he told his aides, he wanted to make history.
He may already have made it. There's no question
that he is already a president of consequence.
But there's no sign he's content to ride out the
second half of the game in the
He is approaching gun control, climate change,
and immigration with wide and excited eyes. He's not going for caretaker.
How should the president proceed then, if he
wants to be bold? The Barack Obama of the first
administration might have approached the task by
finding some Republicans to deal with and then
start agreeing to some of their demands in hope
that he would win some of their votes. It's the
traditional approach. Perhaps he could add a good
deal more schmoozing with lawmakers, too.
That's the old way. He has abandoned that. He
doesn't think it will work and he doesn't have
the time. As Obama explained in his last press
conference, he thinks the Republicans are dead
set on opposing him. They cannot be unchained by
schmoozing. Even if Obama were wrong about
Republican intransigence, other constraints will
limit the chance for cooperation. Republican
lawmakers worried about primary challenges in
2014 are not going to be willing partners. He
probably has at most 18 months before people
start dropping the lame-duck label in close proximity to his name.
Obamas only remaining option is to pulverize.
Whether he succeeds in passing legislation or
not, given his ambitions, his goal should be to
delegitimize his opponents. Through a series of
clarifying fights over controversial issues, he
can force Republicans to either side with their
coalition's most extreme elements or cause a rift
in the party that will leave it, at least temporarily, in disarray.
This theory of political transformation rests on
the weaponization (and slight bastardization) of
the work by Yale political scientist
Skowronek. Skowronek has
extensively about what distinguishes
transformational presidents from caretaker
presidents. In order for a president to be
transformational, the old order has to fall as
the orthodoxies that kept it in power exhaust
themselves. Obama's gambit in 2009 was to build a
new post-partisan consensus. That didn't work,
but by exploiting the weaknesses of todays
Republican Party, Obama has an opportunity to
hasten the demise of the old order by increasing
the political cost of having the GOP coalition
defined by Second Amendment absolutists, climate
science deniers, supporters of self-deportation and the pure no-tax wing.
The president has the ambition and has picked a
second-term agenda that can lead to clarifying
fights. The next necessary condition for this
theory to work rests on the Republican response.
Obama needs two things from the GOP: overreaction
and charismatic dissenters. Theyre not going to
give this to him willingly, of course, but
mounting pressures in the party and the personal
ambitions of individual players may offer it to
him anyway. Indeed, Republicans are serving him
some of this recipe already on gun control,
immigration, and the broader issue of fiscal policy.
On gun control, the National Rifle Association
has overreached. Its Web video mentioning the
president's children crossed a
about the point of the video and its message
compounds the error.
video was also wrong). The NRA is whipping up its
members, closing ranks, and lashing out. This
solidifies its base, but is not a strategy for
wooing those who are not already engaged in the
gun rights debate. It only appeals to those who
already think the worst of the president.
Republicans who want to oppose the president on
policy grounds now have to make a decision: Do
they want to be associated with a group that
opposes, in such impolitic ways, measures like
universal background checks that 70 to 80 percent
of the public supports? Polling also suggests
that women are more open to gun control measures
than men. The NRA, by close association, risks
further defining the Republican Party as the
party of angry, white Southern men.
The president is also getting help from
Republicans who are calling out the most extreme
members of the coalition. New Jersey Gov. Chris
Christie called the NRA video "reprehensible."
Others who have national ambitions are going to
have to follow suit. The president can rail about
and call the GOP bad names, but that doesn't mean
people are going to listen. He needs members
inside the Republican tent to ratify his
positionsor at least to stop marching in
lockstep with the most controversial members of
the GOP club. When Republicans with national
ambitions make public splits with their party, this helps the president.
(There is a corollary: The president cant lose
the support of Democratic senators facing tough
races in 2014. Opposition from within his own
ranks undermines his attempt to paint the GOP as beyond the pale.)
If the Republican Party finds itself destabilized
right now, it is in part because the president
has already implemented a version of this
strategy. In the 2012 campaign, the president
successfully transformed the most intense
conservative positions into liabilities on
immigration and the role of government. Mitt
Romney won the GOP nomination on a platform of
self-deportation for illegal immigrantsand the
Obama team never let Hispanics forget it. The
Obama campaign also branded Republicans with
Romney's ill-chosen words about 47 percent of
Americans as the party of uncaring millionaires.
Now Republican presidential hopefuls like Chris
Christie, Marco Rubio, and Bobby Jindal are
to fix the party's image. There is a general
scramble going on as the GOP looks for a formula
to move from a party that relies on older white
voters to one that can attract minorities and younger voters.
Out of fear for the long-term prospects of the
GOP, some Republicans may be willing to partner
with the president. That would actually mean
progress on important issues facing the country,
which would enhance Obamas legacy. If not, the
president will stir up a fracas between those in
the Republican Party who believe it must show
evolution on issues like immigration, gun
control, or climate change and those who accuse
those people of betraying party principles.
That fight will be loud and in the openand in
the short term unproductive. The president can
stir up these fights by poking the fear among
Republicans that the party is becoming defined by
its most extreme elements, which will in turn
provoke fear among the most faithful
conservatives that weak-willed conservatives are
bending to the popular mood. That will lead to
more tin-eared, dooming declarations of
absolutism like those made by conservatives who
sought to define the difference between
legitimate and illegitimate rapeand handed
control of the Senate to Democrats along the way.
For the public watching from the sidelines, these
intramural fights will look confused and
disconnected from their daily lives.
(Lip-smacking Democrats dont get too excited:
This internal battle is the necessary
precondition for a GOP rebirth, and the Democratic Party has its own tensions.)
This approach is not a path of gentle engagement.
It requires confrontation and bright lines and
tactics that are more aggressive than the
president demonstrated in the first term. He
can't turn into a snarling hack. The posture is
probably one similar to his official second-term
but with arms crossed.
The president already appears to be headed down
this path. He has admitted hes not going to
spend much time improving his schmoozing skills;
he's going to get outside of Washington to
ratchet up public pressure on Republicans. He is
transforming his successful political operation
into a governing operation. It will have his
legacy and agenda in mindand it wont be
affiliated with the Democratic National
Committee, so it will be able to accept
essentially unlimited donations. The president
tried to use his political arm this way after the
2008 election, but he was constrained by
re-election and his early promises of
bipartisanship. No more. Those days are done.
Presidents dont usually sow discord in their
inaugural addresses, though the challenge of
writing a speech in which the call for compromise
doesnt evaporate faster than the air out of the
presidents mouth might inspire him to shake
things up a bit. If it doesnt, and he tries to
conjure our better angels or summon past American
heroes, then it will be among the most
forgettable speeches, because the next day hes
going to return to pitched political battle. He has no time to waste.
Correction, Jan. 18, 2013: This article
originally identified a National Rifle
Association online video as a television ad.
to the corrected sentence.)
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