SYNDICATED COLUMN: Four Bore Years

The Second-Term Curse Belies Obama’s Optimistic Vision

Breaking news: Obama willing to compromise!

Everybody (<—translation: media types) is talking about an interview in which the President makes his case for reelection. A second term, he argues, would end the current gridlock between the Democratic White House and Republican Congress, leading to some sort of grand bargain–or at least a deal–that would improve the crappy economy.

Here’s the money quote:

“What I’m offering the American people is a balanced approach that the majority agrees with, including a lot of Republicans. And for me to be able to say to the Republicans, the election is over; you no longer need to be focused on trying to beat me; what you need to be focused on and what you should have been focused on from the start is how do we advance the American economy. I’m prepared to make a whole range of compromises, some of which I get criticized from the Democratic Party on, in order to make progress.”

Liberal commentators scoffed (though more in sorrow than in anger), pointing out that Republicans who blocked Obama’s slightly-left-of-Milton-Friedman agenda throughout his first term aren’t going more likely to compromise during his lame-duck second term. Furthermore, Obama is wrong about GOP tactics changing once he hits his constitutional term limit. Nasty–and effective–attack ads aside, it really isn’t personal for them. Republican strategists will work to defeat whoever wins the Democratic nomination for president in 2016 just as hard as they schemed to stymie Obama. Which is, of course, exactly what an opposition party should be expected to do.

Unless they’re Democrats. But I digress.

I couldn’t help noticing two remarkable aspects to Obama’s statement:

First, it tacitly admits that he didn’t get much done on jobs, unemployment and the economy–the issue that has consistently ranked as the voters’ top concern the entire time he’s been president. This is a dangerous gambit. Blaming the other party for leaving a mess and for obstructionism has a poor record of electoral success, particularly on the economy; fair or not, voters tend to hold sitting presidents responsible for the state of their wallets.

Second, it asks us to assume that a president’s second term is an opportunity. In fact, history suggests anything but. The vast majority of the signature legislative and policy achievements by U.S. presidents occurred at the beginning of their first terms: FDR’s first 100 days, LBJ’s civil rights act and his war on poverty, Reagan’s partial dismantling of the aforementioned social safety net. Though slow out of the gate, George W. Bush got a reset in the form of 9/11, which he used to push through all sorts of mayhem: the Patriot Act, legalized torture, and a pair of ridiculous optional wars.

The record of non-achievement of second terms is so grim that you have to wonder why presidents ever run for reelection. Whether you look at Richard Nixon, who won a record 1972 landslide only to resign two years later, or Bill Clinton’s second term, when he was caught in the mire of the Travelgate and Monica Lewinsky scandals, or Ronald Reagan’s second term, which was dominated by Iran-Contra and hobbled by the early onset of Alzheimer’s, it is hard to think a president who got much done during his second term. Look at George W. Bush’s number two: he wanted to privatize Social Security and expand the GOP into a permanent majority party; instead, his popularity sank like a stone.

Why do these guys want a do-over so badly? Must be the free food and rent.

Whether Obama is aware of presidential history or just blowing smoke, you shouldn’t expect much from a second term. If you’re voting for Obama simply to keep Romney out–to deny him a chance to get anything done–that’s fine. But don’t expect Obama to get a liberal agenda–assuming he ever wanted one–through Congress. That ship sailed after the 2010 midterm elections.

Or a grand bargain. That boat was never built.

There are a couple of things Obama could do to mitigate the second-term curse.  He could take his case directly to the American people, asking the citizens to pressure the Republican-dominated Congress to push through popular agenda items like forcing banks to write down principal on homes that have lost value since the burst of the housing bubble, tax subsidies for college tuition, and extending benefits to the majority of unemployed Americans, who no longer receive any. Democrats have forgotten this approach: Obama has failed to rally his supporters, Bill Clinton, another man who put too much faith inside the Beltway, had the same failing.

Another way Obama and the Democrats could make the most of a second term would be to replicate what the Republicans did with Newt Gingrich’s 1994 Contract with America, in other words, to state a list of policies and new laws that voters would effectively be endorsing if Obama wins. After November, Democrats would then be able to argue that they have a direct mandate for their agenda.

(Ted Rall’s new book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com. This column originally appeared at NBCNews.com’s Lean Forward blog.)

COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL

 

11 thoughts on “SYNDICATED COLUMN: Four Bore Years

  1. @ted

    “Yes they do. Which is why Romney, a terrible candidate running at the head of a party that dislikes him, is running even with Obama.”

    Bull. I’ve just demonstrated that people don’t blame Obama and the Democrats for the economy. Romney is running even with Obama (he’s really not, but I’ll grant he’s not the 40 points ahead he should be) because of Citizens United allowing the Republicans to spend unlimited money on lies, and the stupidity and racism of a certain part of the electorate.

    “Really? When? Where? Taking your case to the people means going on TV and asking citizens to pressure their legislators. ”

    Obama has repeatedly used his weekly address to ask citiziens to pressure their legislators. But he’s kept his goals small and reasonable, as he should.

    @Alex-

    Thanks for acknowledging I’m right, but I’m less concerned with being told I’m right then what we’re going to do about it.

    I maintain that we can beat their lies by educating the public, but when people like Ted abidcate their responsiblity to educate and instead indulge in pointless Democrat bashing, that makes the job that much harder.

    As for the repeated votes, while I’ll give you that it’s useful as a cudgel, it’s backfired hard among the general electorate. Judging from the remarks from my wife’s tehadist relatives, it has indeed made them look weak and ineffective- and these people are their core constituency.

    Plant-

    It makes me cackle how much space in your head I own. Your desperation in accusing me of things that you’re doing has not gone unnoctied. Your hatred of your fellow man is sociopathic, and you demonstrate no regard for facts. Your right wing masters must be coming down really hard on you for continuing to utterly fail to inspire the revolution they long for if your that desperate to get rid of the people who call you on all your crap.

    Good.

  2. Two things, Whimsical (sorry, it’s a bit long):

    First. “Obama has been doing this; however, he has been keeping his requests and his expectations reasonable. He apparently understands that calling for repeated votes on things that are never going to happen makes you look, weak, ineffective, and frankly a little crazy (see: Republicans on overturning Obamacare). Good for him.”

    I point you toward Sunday’s Doonesbury, which points out that the Republican House has voted to repeal or defund Obamacare 33 times. Purely symbolic votes. And they did it 33 times. Absolutely, this makes the Republican House look a little crazy. But weak? Ineffective? Hardly. Thirty-three votes (symbolic or otherwise) on the same thing translate as strength. It’s a rallying cry that unifies the group. It’s also a nice piece of understood blackmail: If you’re Republican and you go “off the rez” on this, we’ll know, and you will find yourself up a very well-known creek without a paddle.

    Second. “You neglect to mention that the REASON people believe Romney’s lies over Obama’s truth is because Romney’s plans for the country are so evil that people refuse to believe ANYONE would do what Romney and Ryan plan on doing.”

    Whimsical, you’re absolutely right on this one. For those who doubt it, I refer you to the following passage from a political text:

    “All this was inspired by the principle […] that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. ” — Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf (Murphy translation)

    Again, it is a successful strategy to lie, especially when you tell a lie so “colossal” that no one would believe you have the “impudence to distort the truth so infamously.” And that’s why the Republicans are so successful at getting what they want: the Bush Administration told us the lie about yellowcake uranium in Niger. Something so bizarrely specific it simply seemed too specific to be false.

    The Republican strategy seems pretty clear — and pretty effective: Lie early, lie often, lie well. Also, the Republican strategists “get it.” They aren’t out, like OWS, to convince those who agree with them already. Nor are they out to win over the people as equidistant as they are from the center. They’re after the 70% in the middle, the swayable. The ones who don’t really follow politics that much and who can be pulled by appeals to other, non-political issues. Example: Obama’s a Kenyan Muslim atheist. The rational person sits there and says, “Wait. Wait. How can you be a Muslim AND an atheist?” The rest though? It goes into the brain and nestles in right next to the meme about Obama’s birth certificate. Even if you never bought into that guff in the first place, the effect is the same. You “associate” Obama with negatives. If you get arrested 45 times for shoplifting, and every single time, it turns out that you, genuinely, were innocent, even though you have 45 dismissals and not guilties, everyone will think that you are a serial shoplifter with great luck and superlative lawyers.

  3. @Ted: I beg you, please don’t feed the troll called Whimsical. Please. He has exactly one post (and I mean that literally: one) that he keeps posting over and over. His Obama-worship is nearly sociopathic, and he lives in his own bizarre version of reality where facts don’t matter.

    In short: Don’t feel the troll called Whimsical. I know you need traffic, but don’t feed trolls. It only encourages them.

  4. @Ted

    Once again, a sad (but not surprising) lack of due diligence.

    “Nasty–and effective–attack ads aside, it really isn’t personal for them. ”

    You neglect to mention that the REASON people believe Romney’s lies over Obama’s truth is because Romney’s plans for the country are so evil that people refuse to believe ANYONE would do what Romney and Ryan plan on doing.

    (http://nymag.com/daily/intel/2012/07/how-obamas-allies-are-defining-romney.html)

    Here’s a thought I know never occurred to you- instead of wasting your time attacking Obama for things he has little to no control over: you could use your bully pulpit to educate these people on how yes, Romney/Ryan are THAT evil.

    “Blaming the other party for leaving a mess and for obstructionism has a poor record of electoral success, particularly on the economy;”

    Now, this one is just sad. One paper from nearly 60 years ago, with little in the way to back up your claim.

    Here, have a study from a little over 60 days ago: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-57453042-503544/poll-finds-more-blame-bush-than-obama-for-economy/

    Despite your best attempts to obfuscate the point, the American public knows full well both who broke the economy, and who has kept it from being fixed.

    (and I’m not going to mention the success that Truman had running against a “do-nothing” Congress; and those fellows were BETTER LIKED than the current crop. . .)

    ” But don’t expect Obama to get a liberal agenda–assuming he ever wanted one–through Congress. That ship sailed after the 2010 midterm elections.”

    That ship never existed, except in the world inside your head.

    As some of us tried to tell you from the very beginning, the far fringe left had no chance of getting their agenda enacted with Obama(nor with anyone that could’ve won the election). What they had with Obama, had they played their cards right, and were patient was someone who would lay beginnings of an agenda that could’ve been nurtured into everything they wanted with hard work and patience.

    They chose to be petulant instead when their unreasonable demands weren’t met on an impossible timeframe; in the process generating the “enthusiasm gap” that cost the Democrats the House in 2010.

    And sadly, they didn’t learn their lesson- continuing to whine about the candidates when the biggest obstacle to getting a progressive agenda enacted is staring them in the face every time they look in the mirror.

    “There are a couple of things Obama could do to mitigate the second-term curse. He could take his case directly to the American people, asking the citizens to pressure the Republican-dominated Congress to push through popular agenda items”.

    Obama has been doing this; however, he has been keeping his requests and his expectations reasonable. He apparently understands that calling for repeated votes on things that are never going to happen makes you look, weak, ineffective, and frankly a little crazy(see: Republicans on overturning Obamacare). Good for him.

    “Another way Obama and the Democrats could make the most of a second term would be to replicate what the Republicans did with Newt Gingrich’s 1994 Contract with America, in other words, to state a list of policies and new laws that voters would effectively be endorsing if Obama wins. After November, Democrats would then be able to argue that they have a direct mandate for their agenda.”

    As long as he keeps it reasonable, this is actually a pretty decent idea. So kudos for that.

    • “Despite your best attempts to obfuscate the point, the American public knows full well both who broke the economy, and who has kept it from being fixed.”

      Yes they do. Which is why Romney, a terrible candidate running at the head of a party that dislikes him, is running even with Obama.

      “Obama has been doing this; however, he has been keeping his requests and his expectations reasonable.”

      Really? When? Where? Taking your case to the people means going on TV and asking citizens to pressure their legislators.

      By the way, whatever happened to the White House press conference? Obama went a full six months without one:

      http://www.whitehousedossier.com/2012/05/04/obama-abolishes-press-conference/

      What a paranoid president. Even Nixon subjected himself to press scrutiny on a weekly basis.

  5. I do have to ask Ted, what is the agenda of the democrats? Aside from Easy access to abortion, which I’m okay with at this point, what is their platform? Certainly most democrats (especially the elected ones) don’t share your views, they more or less all agree with Republicans except on minor issues… Really I’m not sure, I almost believe Romney is more Liberal than Obama if you look strictly at their records.

    • @Patron, I’m not even sure Democrats truly support abortion choice. If they did, why haven’t they ever proposed a federal law legalizing abortion rights? Most Americans do support choice, so it wouldn’t be all that politically risky. I suspect it’s because it’s their way of keeping liberals in line, terrifying them with the thought of right-wing justices being appointed by a Republican president.

      I don’t think the Democrats actually have an affirmative agenda. Right now it boils down to: “Romney would be even worse” and “McCain would have been even worse” and “Bush was worse than I would have been had I been in there at the time (and look at the mess he left me–never mind that I never tried to clean it up).”

  6. Well Artiofab… Obama is a millionaire and does have Gitmo open…. Yeah, I also noticed that the Republicans cheered the celeb as he said Essentially that civil liberties are important… Patriot act anybody? Eastwood isn’t really a Republican, he’s more libertarian…. and a little old.

  7. The New York Times has the tacit admission that President Obama won’t get anything done if he’s re-elected (they show the House as definitely going to the Republicans, and the Senate a toss-up, so, at best, Obama will be in the identical situation as ’11 – ’12, and at worst, facing a Republican Senate as well).

    The alternative is R&R who will make it possible for the rich to avoid all taxes by creating legal ways to turn all income into fake ‘capital gains’ with no capital gains tax, partially paid for by completely eliminating the feeble programs that currently provide a grossly inadequate safety net for about 40% of the citizens. They’ll try to eliminate Social Security (and, unlike Bush, Jr, they’ll be in their first term with more political capital, and may very well succeed where Bush, Jr failed). Medicaid will definitely be eliminated. And the US will take actions (unspecified) against Iran.

    The Nazis originally planned to starve all the Jews (and other undesirables) with 300 calorie per person per day diets, as the British did with Boer rebels in South Africa, but, when millions of malnourished people were crowded into unsanitary conditions, serious infectious diseases spread, and not just to the inmates, but also to the guards and to citizens in the surrounding towns. So, with typically Teutonic efficiency, the Nazis concluded that it was clearly better for everyone if they gassed the inmates who were too weak to work and then burned the bodies (and more humane than letting the inmates die of malnutrition and horrible infectious diseases).

    Of course, now that we have expensive fifth generation antibiotics, the rich will be protected from all these epidemics, so there won’t be any need for the Nazi solution. But massive epidemics among the poor are a near certainty if R&R are elected.

    Much as it pains me, I have to agree with Whimsical about this election. Bad as he’s been, President Obama still seems far better than what R&R are threatening if they’re elected.

  8. Ted,

    “There are a couple of things Obama could do to mitigate the second-term curse. He could take his case directly to the American people, asking the citizens to pressure the Republican-dominated Congress […]”

    I suspect you’ve seen “The Third Man.” If not, I’m about to ruin it for you. Orson Welles dilutes penicillin, children die due to the weakened penicillin, Welles gives a speech to one of the other characters atop a Ferris wheel. He tells the other character to look down at those dots (the people) on the ground, and he asks, “Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever?”

    Obama doesn’t care about We, the Dots, anymore than Welles’ character. Obama could have brought his case to the American people during his first term. You know why he didn’t? Obama is a master of the tried-and-true method of workplace advancement: keep your mouth shut, don’t make waves, never stick your neck out. He smiles a lot, loves his family — not yours, just his — and will not, under any circumstance, go to bat for you because, well, that would be sticking his neck out.

    The New York Times has a report that tells the people who’ve been in a coma these past four years that, as the headline says, “Majority of New Jobs Pay Low Wages.”

    Obama’s kids will never have to worry about this, so, (see above) Obama has no reason to make waves. And certainly no reason to bother bringing his case to the American Dots.

    It’s possible I’ve been wrong about the Republican strategy for this election. If they were really being smart about it, they’d run anyone — doesn’t matter who, as long as it’s somewhat believable — and simply settle in for four more years of Obamalaise. They’ll obstruct, Obama won’t care, his kids will go off to their wonderful schools, fewer and fewer of us will go off to our lower-paying jobs, and by 2016, we’ll all be so exhausted and starved the Republicans could run Jerry Sandusky for President and he’d win by a landslide.

  9. I know this isn’t on topic, but, I needed to put this somewhere.

    Last night, a guy with seven kids from five women (only two of whom he was married to) got cheers from a Republican audience by saying we should withdraw immediately from Afghanistan.

    What’s next, a Democratic crowd cheering a millionaire who supports infinite detention of suspected terrorists?

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