Saturday, January 24, 2015

Obama's Long Game

Forget for a moment the lofty proposals the President laid out in his State of the Union address - none of which have an ice cube's chance in hell of becoming law. Forget also his overly optimistic view of events unfolding in the Middle East that had even his supporters shaking their heads and wondering if he may have accidentally gotten too close to one of those Colorado pot shops.

This wasn't about policy initiatives or ISIS or even this year. For all intents and purposes 2015 is toast. With the exception of a trade agreement that Republicans will be all too willing to give him, it will be a herculean task to get anything north of a ham sandwich through this Congress that he won't veto. And frankly, I have my doubts about the ham sandwich.

Let's face it: Republicans loathe him and have ever since he was elected in 2008. For the last six years they've made it their life's mission to obstruct him at every turn and for the last four of those years they've been quite successful. What's different is that for the first time in his presidency he finally gets this. Want proof? Look no further than the bitch slap he laid on them when after they applauded his statement that he had no more campaigns to run, he snidely countered, "I know 'cause I won both of 'em."


For most of his presidency, Obama has been the adult in the room, seeking consensus and tolerating just about every imaginable barb and sling thrown at him, some beyond the pale. And what did it get him? Two staggering midterm losses, that's what. Virtually every major policy accomplishment he has had occurred in his first two years in office. Since then he has been fighting on his opponents' turf. His only victory - apart from winning reelection in 2012 - was the self-inflicted wound Republicans suffered when they shut the government down trying to keep his healthcare law from being implemented. But that was like shooting fish in a barrel. Opportunities like that don't grow on trees, even against a party as inept as the GOP.

And while Obama did his level-headed best to find common ground, his base stewed. Last November, they voiced their displeasure by staying home. Result? Bye, bye Senate. The message couldn't have been clearer. You want our vote, give us something to vote for. Credit Obama this much: he took the hint.

Ever since that shellacking he's been on the offensive. Far from behaving like the cowed president the GOP had hoped for, he's been assertive and throwing around his weight. Even before Mitch McConnell had the chance to begin his tenure as majority leader, Obama had signed an executive order on immigration, reached an accord with China on greenhouse emissions and announced an end to the Cuban embargo.

Last Tuesday, he used the bulk of his State of the Union address to serve notice to the GOP that he was done being the nice guy. He couldn't have been plainer: Work with me and together we can accomplish some things. Send me bills I don't like and my veto pen is going to get a work out.

But more than that, he laid out the Democratic strategy going into 2016. He redefined what the issues are going to be. No more austerity and supply-side drivel. The core issue for the next two years is going to be the middle class, the middle class, the middle class. He's done playing on his opponents' turf by their rules. From now on, it's my ball, my court, my rules.

I like this Obama much more than the old Obama. He's got his dander up.  Good for him. It's about damn time.  Know who else likes this new and improved Obama more? The public. His approval numbers since last November have steadily risen. He's now polling around 48 percent, just a notch below where it was when he won reelection in 2012. People like it when their leaders lead.

Don't think for a moment that Republicans haven't noticed the turnaround. They're acting like kids who just discovered their parents came home earlier than expected. After pretending the middle class didn't even exist, all of sudden they can't say middle class enough. Even Thurston Howell III - aka Mitt Romney - has gotten on the band wagon. That's right, Mr. 47 percent video himself is practically in tears over the plight of this "beloved" group.

It should be real interesting - not to mention hysterical - listening to Republicans articulate a vision to help a class they've been fucking for the better part of the last three decades. I can hardly wait for dear old Mitt, or Paul Ryan or Jeb or Rand Paul to explain how giving away trillions of dollars to the wealthiest people on the planet who already don't pay their fair share will somehow magically trickle down and revive the down trodden, especially when that con game has been played twice before and to scathing reviews.

Even without Obama going all Shaft on their asses, it was becoming clear that the GOP was running out of steam on the old "blame Obama for the shitty economy" line. Fact is, the economy isn't all that bad. Unemployment is at the lowest it's been in a decade, the Dow has tripled in value since '09 and the economy is growing at its fastest rate since the '90s. Face it, if they couldn't sell doom and gloom in 2012, they sure as hell weren't going to sell it in 2016. The problem with rooting for the fire is that sooner or later the fire gets put out. Oh, and the plan B story about "yes, the economy is doing better but Obama had nothing to do with it," wasn't going anywhere either. People may be stupid, but they're not THAT stupid. Even those who had honest disagreements with Obama on strategy clearly saw a party about as interested in helping revive the economy as a straight man wanting to attend a showing of La Cage aux Folles.

If Obama and the Democrats don't screw this up and once more fumble the ball at the one yard line, they can set the stage for another successful run at the White House, possibly take back the Senate and make inroads in the House. It all comes down to resolve. Can Harry Reid reign in the remaining Blue Dogs in his caucus and keep them from siding with McConnell and the majority? The Keystone Pipeline will be the first litmus test. It will undoubtedly pass and make its way to Obama's desk. But when he vetoes it, will his party back him or will they help to override him? If it's the former, Democrats have a chance; if it's the latter, it's game, set and match.

Think about it: if Democrats can't stand up to something as phony and transparent as a pipeline that promises 35 permanent jobs, how the hell are they going to hold fort on bigger issues like women's rights and the environment? And then there's the GOP master plan to turn the U.S. into a larger version of Kansas. If John Boehner and McConnell ever get the chance to replicate on a national level what Sam Brownback is doing on a state level, you can kiss what's left of the middle class in this country goodbye for a LONG, LONG time.

This is the moment Democrats and, more importantly, progressives have been dreaming about for more than six years. They finally have a president who doesn't have to worry about running for office again, who has finally found his voice and who is willing and able to lead his party forward.  They also have the right issues on their side. Whoever the nominee is - be it Hillary or Elizabeth Warren or whoever - they will have a considerable advantage going into the next election. The right issues, a recovering economy and, hopefully, an energized base will go a long way towards assuring victory.

Now is the time for boldness, not caution. I wrote a while back that Obama's biggest accomplishment in his first two years in office was making sure Republicans didn't destroy the economy. His goal for the last two years will be to make sure they don't get another crack at it. Well, you can add one vary important caveat to that last part.

That is ASSUMING his own party doesn't get in his way.

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