I must say I am looking forward to the President’s second Inaugural Address on Monday. In my lifetime there have only been two second term Democratic presidencies and Bill Clinton began his second term with the shadow of the Whitewater and Trooper gate allegations hanging over him. He had already begun his dalliance with Monica Lewinsky, and so the events that led to his impeachment were already in motion. Barack Obama on the other hand begins his second term with a much bigger mandate (51% of the popular vote to Clinton’s 49%) and no threat of scandal.
Equally important, the Republican Party is in complete disarray, as can be seen by their cave in today on the debt ceiling. David Brooks wrote an unintentionally humorous column today complaining that Obama is being too tough on the Republicans at the very moment of their meltdown. After laying out how he would hope Obama might propose some small bore initiatives that Eric Cantor could agree on, Brooks then states he doesn’t think that is going to happen, unintentionally laying out a perfect strategy for the Democrats..
It’s more likely that today’s majority party is going to adopt a different strategy, which you might call Kill the Wounded. It’s more likely that today’s Democrats are going to tell themselves something like this:
“We live at a unique moment. Our opponents, the Republicans, are divided, confused and bleeding. This is not the time to allow them to rebuild their reputation with a series of modest accomplishments. This is the time to kick them when they are down, to win back the House and end the current version of the Republican Party.
“First, we change the narrative. The president ran in 2008 against Washington dysfunction, casting blame on both parties. Over the years, he has migrated to a different narrative: The Republicans are crazy. Washington could be working fine, but the Republicans are crazy.
“At every public appearance, the president should double-down on that theme. The Democratic base already believes it. The media is sympathetic. Independents could be persuaded.
“Then, wedge issues. The president should propose no new measures that might unite Republicans, the way health care did in the first term. Instead, he should raise a series of wedge issues meant to divide Southerners from Midwesterners, the Tea Party/Talk Radio base from the less ideological corporate and managerial class.
“He’s already started with a perfectly designed gun control package, inviting a long battle with the N.R.A. over background checks and magazine clips. That will divide the gun lobby from suburbanites. Then he can re-introduce Bush’s comprehensive immigration reform. That will divide the anti-immigration groups from the business groups (conventional wisdom underestimates how hard it is going to be for Republicans to back comprehensive reforms).
“Then he could invite a series of confrontations with Republicans over things like the debt ceiling — make them look like wackos willing to endanger the entire global economy. Along the way, he could highlight women’s issues, social mobility issues (student loans, community college funding) and pick fights on compassion issues, (hurricane relief) — promoting any small, popular spending programs that Republicans will oppose.
“Twice a month, Democrats should force Republicans to cast an awful vote: either offend mainstream supporters or risk a primary challenge from the right.”
Just as Senator Mitch McConnell made defeating President Obama his main political objective, Democrats seem likely to make winning back the House their primary political objective. Experts are divided on how plausible this is, but the G.O.P. is unpopular and the opportunity is there.
I need to congratulate Brooks on this wonderful plan for Obama’s first two years of his second term. If the Democrats can continue to highlight the crazy agenda of the Tea Party/Talk Radio Republican Party, then a Democratic Victory in the 2014 midterms could be a reality.
But there are other reasons I am confident about the next four years. The appointment of John Kerry and Chuck Hagel to head State and Defense are an incredibly strong signal that the 70 year long era of America being the World’s unpaid policeman is over. Both Kerry and Hagel are veterans who know the true cost of war and they will introduce a dose of realism to our foreign policy. Writing about Obama’s decision to accelerate the Afghanistan departure and to stay out of Mali, the analyst George Friedman framed the new policy as Avoiding Wars the Never End.
The United States is not just drawing down its combat commitments; it is moving away from the view that it has the primary responsibility for trying to manage the world on behalf of itself, the Europeans and its other allies. Instead, that burden is shifting to those who have immediate interests involved.
Our ability to cut our bloated Pentagon will also free up resources to begin the infrastructure rebuilding that is critical to the American future. As I have been saying in my America 3.0 speeches, we are so much better positioned to create a sustainable society in the face of the global challenges of climate change, the disappearance of work and cultural anomie. But we need to rebuild our depression era infrastructure.
So Barack has a chance on Monday to paint a vision for America 3.0–a country that can adapt to globalization, robotics and rising oceans. Of course there is 20% of the country that is basically batshit paranoid, having been fueled by the big lies of Rush, Glenn and Sean. But we all have to ignore these morons. Many of them are old and will be gone by the time our children inherit this country. Hopefully by then we will be a more generous, diverse and less imperial nation.