A whole number of tantalizing details emerged in the past week, which suggest that President Barack Obama may be getting cold feet about his pedal-to-the-metal domestic policy agenda.
First there is the news that the White House Communications Director and Maoist, Anita Dunn is leaving the White House. If you will recall, she was the architect of the war against Fox News, whose ratings have been soaring ever since war was declared. Second, was chatter that Rahm Emmanuel, a.k.a. Rhambo, may want ‘to return to Congress’ in the upcoming mid-term elections. Though he has always expressed a desire to return to Congress when his work at the White House is finished, I find the timing of this latest rumour curious. As you will likely recall, it was Emmanuel who famously said, “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste”, and who, consequently, is considered to be the driving force behind Obama’s domestic strategy to date. Third, there is the statement that the Obama administration might give up on passing cap and trade legislation. And last are the rumours that the principal subject of his 2010 State of the Union address will be deficits and debt reduction.
All this may be smoke and mirrors of course. After all, Obama has already given one major speech on the evils of the federal debt, but considering that he give that speech on the same day he quietly signed into law the $410 Omnibus spending bill (complete with a record 9,000 earmarks), one can be forgiven for doubting Obama’s sincerity on the subject.
However, there are many reasons for Obama to ponder a reverse course today. Like any modern politician, he keeps close watch on the polls, and the polls have not been good for a while. The results in the Virginia and New Jersey elections this November are almost identical to the results in these same elections in 1993. This parallel cannot be lost on Obama, who must realize that if he loses Congress in 2010 as decisively as Clinton lost it in 1994, his left-wing domestic legacy is finished, just as Clinton’s was. From 1994 onward, Bill Clinton was ‘successful’ only because he skillfully took credit for the overall good effects of the legislation Newt Gingrich shoved down his throat while simultaneously (and disingenuously) denouncing those same policies in their specifics. Of course, he was also successful in the way he navigated through his personal scandals, a form of achievement I doubt Obama aspires to.
If Obama wants to avoid the same fate, he has to lay comparatively low for the next year so that he can salvage what he can of Congress in November 2010. While he is too committed to health care reform to back off now, he must realize that the massive tax hikes on basic commodities like energy that will be mandated by cap and trade legislation will finish off the Democrats in Congress for a while. Even though it is likely that the Dem’s will lose a significant number of seats in 2010, if they can hold on to a majority by their fingernails, Obama will have preserved some options for the rest of first term.
While wheeling and dealing with the opposition came naturally to the gregarious Bill Clinton, Obama has a very different personality. I suspect that he will find the to’ing and fro’ing of retail politics very contrary to his Eloi nature.