Heading toward the end of his first term and right from the very start of his second, President Obama has been signaling that he intends to be more hard-nosed about navigating Washington’s obstacle course to achieve agenda objectives, than back when it was all virgin territory. When he was newly arrived and for much of his tenure in the first go-round, the president was all about doing the reach out drill. Even before he got to be president, in fact, when he intoned, “We’re not blue states and red states, we’re the United States…”
With his election would come hard indicators of the desire for collegiality, not least the decision to give Republicans much more than a token presence among the administration’s top echelon: secretary of defense, secretary of transportation and secretary of the army; along with one of the major diplomatic postings, ambassador to China. For all of these and other outreach gestures, the vibe from the other side was hardly indicative of any appetite for reciprocation. Instead, quickly was it being telegraphed, often not at all subtly, that the GOP’s top priority was to make sure the president would be a one-termer. We saw the prescribed business of Capitol Hill subsumed by a riveting focus on crafting the apparatus and appearance of administration failure. The Obama healthcare reform package became a handy scapegoat for the philistines unleashing a summer of ugly in ’09, mere months into the presidential term.
The untrammeled anti-Obama rage would manifest itself even more fiercely thereafter, with a Tea Party movement having been spawned and the opposition’s orchestrated demonizing of the president leading to that Republican windfall of House seats in the 2010 mid-term elections. The president, to his credit, continued to talk compromise and olive branch. One saw a graphic representation of how much tolerance resided on Obama’s side of the fence in his “no big deal” type of reaction to the despicable outburst of a Republican schmuck daring to call the president a liar during the State of the Union address. Experiencing a hard time from the get-go, no way was there the slimmest hope of the president bridging gaps with the collection of obstruction-minded extremists who formed the new House GOP majority. The response of these renegades to just about anything coming from the administration was predictable. Moreover, it was clear that the leadership, in particular Speaker John Boehner, had no control over the wild bunch.
If nothing else before had jolted the president into taking the full measure of how futile it was to hope to reach common ground with the stonewall oriented Republican element, perhaps Boehner’s having ultimately to depend on Democrats to get fiscal cliff legislation passed may have been the tipping point. In truth, it should have been obvious much earlier in the post-2010 narrative that the Republican rump was not about to be reasoned with. In the outlier legislator model to which these Republican/Tea Party hardliners subscribed, room for accommodation simply did not exist. And worse, public disfavor over such reckless conduct of state affairs was of little or no consequence.
Then again, the president may have long decided that getting voted in a second time would bring with it a change in style, reflective of the exasperation following an unrewarded search for comity, as well as determination to respond forthrightly to the mockery made of governing by the other side. The president’s very firm declaration that he would not bargain with Republicans over the debt ceiling issue fixed some early parameters of the new presidential mojo. This, after the Republicans had laid down their own marker, that legislation to raise the debt limit must include provisions for spending cuts. The president’s insistence that the two issues didn’t belong in the same conversation eventually saw the GOP come around to a new position absent the spending cuts demand.
And right out of the blocks for the new term, the president’s Inaugural address has provided evidence aplenty of his moving away from the measured gait of the first stanza. An address so boldly assertive in its progressive ideals that prompted observers to routinely characterize it as embodying the hallmarks of a liberal agenda is indeed a far cry from the typical Obama first-term strut. Here was the historic first mention in an Inaugural speech of the word “gay,” as the president seemed to permanently discard the “evolving” position on the subject he was indicating not too very long ago, and advocating now full acceptance. Also in the pomp of an Inaugural, barbs tossed, albeit to a degree veiled or coded. Reminiscent of Romney and Ryan from their very forgettable campaign of 2012 came this: “The commitments we make to each other through Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security don’t sap our initiative, they strengthen us; they don’t make us a nation of takers, they free us to take the risks that make this country great.”
Like clockwork came the kind of response from the usual GOP suspects. Shameless as always, they would prattle on about having expected to hear more along the lines of unity, would you believe! But the president could rest assured that he warmed the cockles of many a progressive heart in this most powerful demonstration yet of standing, unapologetically, where the spirit leads him.