Category Archives: US Politics

Obama has no intention of letting Republicans write his political legacy

President Obama shouldn't by rights be entering 2015 with much political joy in his heart. He may still have two full years as chief executive to run, but the set-back of the mid-term Republican gains, which saw that party gain control of the Senate and keep control of the House of Representatives, meant that his chances of any satisfactory legislation in the remainder of his presidency are precisely zilch.

If anything, though, the Republican win seems to have fired the president up to make sure he finishes his final term on a high.  He clearly has no intention of letting the Republicans dictate his political legacy and, as this New Republic article suggests, he may also be seeking to ensure that any Democratic successor - most people think Hillary Clinton at the moment -  has something to fight for and preserve in 2016.

Obama made an impact when, not long after his party's mid-term defeat, he went on the offensive over deferring deportation of illegal immigrants, using the executive order to do so.  He's been at it again in his bid to normalise relations with Cuba.  Clearly, the executive office is going to be the source of much pro-active agenda-setting, and the essentially negative Republicans in the elgislature may find themselves on the wrong end of the Obama executive presidency.

As Brian Beutler suggests in New Republic, Obama will have to be wary of over-using executive orders, but there are ways in which he can stake out his legacy and give Hillary something to fight for by appealing to his still very large political base.  After all, he has the largest electoral mandate of any politician in the country.

Obama has already done much to re-shape America, and rescue international affairs from the disasters of his predecessor's foreign policy.  It looks as if he is far from finished and that the next two years might even see a liberated president, with no more elections to fight, pursue some of his most distinctive policies yet.  The Obama story is far from over.

Obama Shows How You Do Leadership

President Obama has issued an instructive lesson to any weak-minded British politicians who might be minded to try and follow the UKIP line on immigration in order to appease the voters.  Don't.

After having received a drubbing - or at any rate watching his party receive one - in the mid-term elections, you might expect the president, faced with a Congress now wholly controlled by his opponents, to lie low.  Not a bit of it.  Believing in the justice - even morality - of his cause, President Obama has shown how you do leadership.  You stay fighting for your principles, and you do so in a way no-one can possibly misinterpret you.

The immigration issue is as toxic in America as it is over here, but at least in America they have a leader willing to tack against the simple bigotry of hating immigrants.  That is not so clear in the UK.  Where Obama has used his executive power to protect some 4 million "illegal" immigrants, the Conservatives' most recent pronouncements suggest they might be keen to deal with the paranoia surrounding UK immigration by, er, embracing it.

Away from the specific issue, the president's move throws the issue of executive power into the spotlight, helps to secure a huge Hispanic vote for the Democrats, and almost begs the Republican hard liners to come out fighting and opposing it.  Now that is sublime politics.

Obama – Still the Best Bet

If the 2010 mid-term election results delivered a “shellacking” to President Obama, the 2014 ones probably go beyond the reach of the standard dictionary of slang.  Barack Obama now governs – as Bill Clinton did before him – without his party controlling either the senate or the House.  Worse, the Republicans who are now in charge have a clear agenda to overturn and stop any reform that featured on the Obama agenda.   And if politics was polarised under the Clinton-Gingrich axis, it is far more polarised now, with McConnell and Boehner unable to control their reddest, most reactionary members, even if they wanted to.

There’s a danger with election results such as these that they warp our view of the man in charge.  After all, as we’ve been so regularly told, these were a verdict on the president himself.  The election was as much about Obama as anything.  Well, if it was, only about a third of the electorate took part.  And as for Obama being the focus, he was focused through a lens expertly distorted by the Republican campaign. 

Obama is a fine speaker – one of the best orators to inhabit the White House – but he is a relatively poor communicator in all other respects.  His team, whilst efficient, have failed to make the inroads into the national political psyche that they need to, partly because they academicise things too much, partly because they sometimes don’t realise that everything – every single action, every single defence, every single policy – needs to be relentlessly simplified, broadcast and repeated until everyone “gets it”.  Mass democracies are not marketplaces for complex theoretical reasoning.  They are harsh, simple, fickle places and the Obama team has been poor at realising this.  The Republicans suddenly became pre-eminent in this game – not least because they have a natural yen towards negative advertising and campaigning.

Thus the fact is that, despite the odd and perverse verdict of the electorate, Obama remains the best bet for Americans, and the world community which depends so much upon competence and rationalism in the White House.

This is a man who took the presidency in the most unpropitious circumstances – possibly the worst ever inherited by a president since Lincoln -  but who has yet managed to pass significant reforms and re-balance what was becoming an irrational and dangerous foreign policy.  Andrew Sullivan, as so often is the case in commentating upon Obama, provides one of the most vigorous and persuasive defences of the president in his post-election Dish piece.  After assessing the responsibility that the president needed to take for failures in 2013, Sullivan goes on to say this:

The truth is: the Obama team subsequently achieved a near-miraculous rescue of Obamacare, achieved real success in enrollment, and have seen core healthcare costs slow down in such a way that could yet shift our long-term fiscal liabilities for the better. Obamacare is almost certainly here to stay – surviving one pitched battle after the next. As for Syria, Obama turned that crisis into opportunity, by seizing a compromise brokered by Russia which managed to locate, transport and destroy all but a few traces of Assad’s chemical stockpile. This remains a huge, and hugely under-appreciated achievement – and if you think I’m exaggerating, imagine what the stakes would now be in that region (and the world) if ISIS had a chance to get its hands on that stuff.
The same can be said of the economy. No other developed country has achieved the growth that the US has after the stimulus – including austerity-bound Germany. No other administration has presided over a steeper fall in the deficit.

Sullivan’s piece is worth reading in its entirety, but I finish with this thought.  Obama may have received another electoral punishing, but when we start to eye up the sort of leadership and vision offered by his successful opponents in the Republican Party, it really does beg the question of whether electors are capable of voting properly in their own interests.  A few months down the line, with McConnell besieged on the right by the likes of Ted Cruz, and trying to obstruct everything the Obama White House does, and proper reform stalled endlessly, who then will the fickle electors blame?  It should be themselves.