Tuesday, January 7, 2014


The president of the U.S. is at a low point in his popularity
with voters as he begins the second year of his final term
in office. This is not unusual in recent years. Jimmy Carter
and George H.W. Bush each served only one term, so their
experience does not apply, but Bill Clinton and George W.
Bush were elected twice, and suffered dips as they began
their second term. Clinton, after his impeachment failed to
lead to a conviction, rallied by moving to the political center
and compromising with the Republican leadership. George
Bush, as the Iraq War dragged down his popularity,
authorized a successful military “surge” in Iraq, but his
domestic policies failed to restore his favor with the public.

Going into the 2014 mid-term elections, President Obama
and his Democratic allies in the Congress are facing a
possible “wave” election against them, principally caused
by the disastrous implementation of the president’s signature
and only major accomplishment in his first five years in office,
Obamacare. The Democrats faced an analogous situation in
2010, but chose to ignore it, and suffered a massive defeat,
including loss of control of the U.S. house and a much
diminished control of the U.S. senate.

But Mr. Obama survived his 2012 re-election, much to the
surprise of many. By identifying and then motivating
their voters to go to the polls, the Democrats gained a few
seats in the house and senate, and kept the White House.
Their Republican opposition did not match the Democratic
strategic advantage.

Barack Obama is an amateur politician. A very successful
amateur so far, it must be said, but not a “hands-on”
politician. Ronald Reagan, the two Bushes were not
hands-on either, but they were ultimately professionals
with experience in elected office.  Mr. Obama depends on
others, on political professionals, to accomplish his goals.
He has not, in five years, developed the personal political
relationships with many members of Congress, even with
those of his own party.

As the 2014 national mid-term election campaign begins,
there are ominous signs not favorable to the president and
his party. Most of these come from the public reception to
the initial implementation of Obamacare. Short of drastic
changes in the law, which would require major compromises
with the Republicans in Congress, the initial sign-up “glitches”
will be replaced by the public awareness of how unsustainable
the healthcare reform legislation is in practice. From now
until election day, and beyond, Obamacare’s shortcomings
will be revealed to the majority of Americans.

Perhaps Mr. Obama, having been re-elected, and no longer
faced with going before the voters again, thinks it does not
matter that his party avoids another mid-term election
debacle. Perhaps he believes that the Republicans still do not
know how to mobilize their voters as well as his party can.
Perhaps believing that Obamacare is “settled law” and thus
irreversible, the president simply does not care to accommodate
any political expediency to lessen the political backlash against
his party. Perhaps he and his allies believe they can  make
Americans forget the Obamacare disasters with "red herrings"
such as the minimum wage issue.

With his two aging primary partners in the Congress, Nancy
Pelosi and Harry Reid, two persons with whom he shares the
credit for this legacy, he has no one pushing him to change his
tactics, his belief in what he has done, or his direction in what
he could yet do.

There are signs, however, that the Republicans are figuring
out, in this cycle, how successfully to oppose Obamacare and
its perpetrators. But these are only signs, and not yet
conclusive evidence that they will succeed. That evidence will
come soon ahead in the primary season in which the GOP
selects its nominees to run for the U.S. house and senate,
particularly in those contests which seem likely to be close.

If the Republicans nominate a very strong slate of candidates,
2014 could give them clear control of the Congress. Already
possibly thinking about his post-presidential years, Mr. Obama
might then just dig in on Obamacare, and simply endure a benign
“lame duck” final two years. Of course, that would require the
cooperation of his own party’s surviving members of Congress.
Mr. Obama has so far avoided systematic overrides of his vetoes.
The Supreme Court has yet to rule on most of his controversial
executive orders.

Does Obama care?

Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

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