[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 Obama’s 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 didn’t work. People don’t 
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 Obama’s speech is the 
challenge of his second term: how to be great 
when the environment stinks. Enhancing the 
president’s legacy requires something more than 
simply the clever application of predictable 
stratagems. Washington’s 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.

Obama’s 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 today’s 
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. They’re 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 
The group’s 
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 can’t 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 Obama’s 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 don’t 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 he’s 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 won’t 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 don’t usually sow discord in their 
inaugural addresses, though the challenge of 
writing a speech in which the call for compromise 
doesn’t evaporate faster than the air out of the 
president’s mouth might inspire him to shake 
things up a bit. If it doesn’t, 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 he’s 
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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