Joe Gandelman: Obama’s final turning point
It’s crunch time for President Barack Obama. President Lyndon Johnson once said: “Being President is like being a jackass in a hailstorm. There’s nothing to do but stand there and take it.”
That Obama & Co. would like us to be in a New Era is evident by comments from administration aides and Obama during the State of the Union address: we’re in “A Year of Action.” He’ll use the pen and the phone so 2014 doesn’t turn out to be as unproductive as 2013 was in terms of what Obama had laid out as his agenda and what Congress actually did (little). To underscore it, on the eve of his address he announced he’d bypass Congress and use an executive order to require that janitors, construction workers and other workers who work for federal contracts get a minimum $10.10 an hour because Congressional GOPers can’t resist resisting the raising of the minimum wage.
Obama is at his last turning point. In governance mode he hasn’t lived up to his supporters’ highest expectations or his opponents’ worst fears —and it can’t all be blamed on his GOP foes. With three years left in his term and Republicans determined to stymie him, he can keep making rousing speeches and appearances and run out the clock, or he can try a different approach. And so he’ll turn to executive orders, which have been used by past presidents (so watch it be denounced by far- right GOPers as subverting the constitution).
Polls indicate this could be a pivotal crossroads for Obama and his party. The see-saw generic ballot on Congressional elections is now back at “saw”: a new NBC/WSJ poll gives Democrats a two-point lead, after the Dems lost their big lead due to the Obamacare rollout fiasco. Democrats got that lead due to the Republican-engineered government shut-down fiasco which further decimated the already sagging Republican brand.
That NBC/Wall Street Journal poll and others find Obama only ahead of George Bush in starting his sixth year at such a low point in job approval. Yet, the poll finds the public supports many Obama policy ideas. But it also finds 63 percent think the country is headed in the wrong direction, a mere 43 percent approve of the way he’s doing his job, 71 percent are unhappy over the economy, and Congress has a Benny’s Bargain Basement rating of 13 percent approval.
His enemies help him. The Republican National Committee’s May 2013 “post-mortem” on the election was rejected by the grassroots, talk-show hosts and in large part by the party establishment. Rather than rebranding and expanding their tent, Republicans are reaffirming the 2012 brand and opting for a pup tent with bouncers keeping unwanted RINOS and other groups from entering. The Arizona Republican Party even censured Sen. John McCain. The result?
A Pew Research Center poll finds Americans believe Democrats more willing to work with the other party (52 percent to 27 percent). They have a 20 percent edge when people are asked which party seems more concerned about their needs. Democrats win by 10 points on which party is more ethical and honest in governing. Republicans win 54-47 percent on which party is more extreme and influenced by lobbyists (47 percent to 30 percent).
Clearly, Obama was naive in thinking he could change Washington’s realities. His former Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said as much on TV: “Well, I think, you know, the ability to change Washington, I think, is something that long ago the White House sort of stopped trying to do and whether or not that’s a good thing, we will look back on history.”
Indeed, historians may not give Obama a pass in how he coped with Congress, even one peppered with Republicans out to destroy him politically and sandbag his agenda. Here’s another quote, this time from Teddy Roosevelt: “I have a very strong feeling that it’s a President’s duty to get on with Congress, and that it is a reflection upon him if he and Congress come to a complete break.”
Yet, there may be times when a partial or even complete break is necessary.
Unless you want to just stand out there in a hailstorm.
Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.