President Obama made his political career with his famous 2004 DNC keynote speech in which he said there was no red America or blue America. Four years later, he was elected on a pledge to heal the divisions in Washington.
But now, as his final term in office begins, he’s presiding over the most bitter partisan warfare since Republicans tried to impeach President Bill Clinton in 1998. And he’s moving on several fronts to crush Congressional Republicans who have opposed him nearly unanimously since his election.
The president’s new partisanship and combativeness, unveiled in September 2011, played well in the election campaign, rallying his base and sharpening the difference with Republican nominee Mitt Romney. And since his victory, the president, while still talking a good bipartisan game, has been cannily exploiting Republican divisions and setting them up for much bigger defeats down the road.
His goal–to finish dismantling the legacy of the catastrophic George W. Bush presidency and to destroy radical Tea Party Republicanism.
Now make no mistake: The president’s own failures have been part of the problem. He has been unable or unwilling to reach out to Republicans the way Ronald Reagan or FDR did to their opponents. And he lacks the sheer ruthlessness of Lyndon Johnson, who ruled by fear.
So he’s preparing to do by stealth, executive power, and political jiu-jitsu what he hasn’t been able to accomplish through persuasion and effective negotiations.
- He got 85 House Republicans and 40 Republican Senators to vote to raise $600 billion from higher taxes on high-income households, the first time in two decades Republicans voted to raise taxes on anyone. Commentators like Charles Krauthammer and Newt Gingrich called it a surrender.
- He is assembling his own national security team (no Bob Gates, no Hillary Clinton) free of any taint of the neocons that got us into the disastrous Iraq war. We will be completely out of Iraq and Afghanistan and will no longer give unconditional support to the Israeli government, as President Bush did. And we won’t jump into war with Syria or Iran without a LOT of serious debate.
- He is working on a big immigration bill which Republicans will support but which will redound more in his and Democrats’ favor with the burgeoning Hispanic and Asian electorate.
- He also is pushing a gun control plan in the wake of Newtown that may be far more extensive than expected, and some of it will be done by executive order, The Washington Post reported. Goal: to break the NRA’s electoral stranglehold and isolate Republican assault-weapons extremists.
- By supporting gay marriage and ending “don’t ask, don’t tell,” he mobilized public opinion for gay rights and marginalized the fanatical Christian right, which has been a big albatross on Romney and other serious Republican candidates.
- Finally, he’s setting up Republicans for their biggest defeat of all. More and more of them are publicly drooling at the chance to shut the government down or not extend the debt limit. President Obama has refused to negotiate with them on the debt limit, either, allowing them to hang themselves. He’s betting they will get all the blame if things come crashing down around our ears—and they probably will.
It’s quite a distance from the Audacity of Hope to cynical political rope-a-dope. But that’s how poisonous Washington is. And I do think the extremist fever that’s infected the Republican Party has to break before the GOP can again become the responsible small-government party it’s been for the last 150 years.
But the president’s actions won’t break the delusions and resistance to change that pervade his own Democratic Party—unless he pivots back to bipartisanship in a budget deal. More likely it will take a shrewd, strong Republican president to do to Democrats what President Obama is now trying to do to the GOP.