Revisiting Obama

In the Summer of 2011, Obama failed to grasp the nettle. My analysis of that frustrating time in politics is the single most viewed entry on this site. It was a low point for the President, and a high point for my frustration. I recall my description that 'Obama failed' and I wonder, 'was I too harsh?'

It wasn't harsh. The majority of what I wrote then - about the state of politics at large - still holds true now. Since that time, it has become a fortuitous season for the President. He has taken advantage of the National mood, but his actions did not catalyze it. He has since grasped a new, fresh narrative, one many are hungry for. However, this has not been his or his Administration's invention. It's but a savvy instinctive political reaction to two political gifts. One is the Republican Presidential Primary. The other is the Occupy Movement.

The Summer of 2011 was a low point for Washington, even by its middling standards. It caught the Democrats between gears. In desperation, they tried to shift between second and third, and got stuck. Republicans ran the gas too hard, and tried to downshift, but all it did was screw up the transmission. The car stalled. Obama, as I intimated above, caught a lift from the Occupy Movement and from the Republican Presidential Primary and was able to get back on the road, but Congress never recovered. It is still as inert, deadlocked and unpopular as ever.

The debt ceiling debate should have instead been a debate about jobs. In an indirect way, it was. Determining budget priorities - determining whether or not we are going to default or continue to be able to borrow - is a important but routine occurrence in Congress. It only became a controversy last Summer because of already simmering tensions over differences in partisan ideology, and a single minded mission on behalf of Republicans to discredit the President's office.

I knew the compromises on the debt ceiling negotiations were reasonable. Agreement existed. Instead, acrimony over ideological divides about the role of Government in providing social welfare forced its hand on this normally procedural budget issue, sabotaged it, and drew it out. It became a circus, and many pundits weighing in on the issue were economics wonks who were not reading between the lines at all about the real source of the conflict. This was beyond frustrating for me, and compounding that frustration was a President who was getting drawn into the minutiae of the circus and not acting on the bigger narrative.

The debate that needed to take place at that time, the one which is now thankfully happening, was the one about the role of Government, taxes, wealth creation, the value of work, income inequality and a widening class divide. Oddly, between Occupy and the Republican race, it has been the extended Primary which has, in my opinion, acted as the most powerful catalyst for a discussion about fairness, taxes and and class conflict. The Occupy movement, while a powerful narrative, suffered from its own participants' gleeful lack of focus. There were attempts to make the Occupy movement about specific demands, such as removing the money influence from elections, but these attempts sputtered out. On the other hand, the contentiousness of the Primary has forced the Republican candidates to unintentionally siphon out the weaknesses of their own party, and in turn, has jump-started a discussion about fairness that never would have otherwise taken place.

Obama has, since acting on the political gifts granted him, used his authority to circumvent Congress and to appeal directly to citizens rather than try to have anything passed through the Legislative branch. He knows now that it's futile to try otherwise at this point. Instead of appealing to Congress, as he has done up until recently, Obama has decided to make a more direct appeal to the public, leaving Congress largely out of the equation. This specific shift in his tactic has benefited him the most. It is how he plans to get things done in what may be his final year in office. This perpetual campaign is not just a means to ensure him another four years - it is his way, now, of getting business done.

I am marginally happier with Obama's communication strategies and bolder approach, even if his Presidency has morphed into a perpetual campaign. There are signs he is trying to pull back from that, though. In his meeting with the Democrats last week, he made a point to ensure them that he has their backs. This was no doubt an attempt to invigorate his party in Congress to alleviate the need for him to continue making public appeals on policy and legislation. Over time, such appeals lose their political magic and begin to look desperate. He knows this. His campaign knows this.

In what is sure to be a stunningly unpredictable season, and in an age where a single comment or gaffe can change the course of a sure thing, I remain hesitant to make political predictions. What I am sure of, though, is that Obama stopped waiting for his opponents in Washington to come to their senses. The citizenry at last caught the real thread and came to their senses, and he took advantage.


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