It ought to be clear what President Barack Obama’s second term will bring. In the 2012 election, both Republicans and Democrats agreed that the country faced a clear choice between two alternatives. The GOP ticket advocated a return to the constitution’s vision of a society of free individuals, and the Obama campaign offered a vision of cradle-to-grave government guarantees. Obama having won, the path forward ought to be clear.
Yet Obama’s vision has run into an immovable obstacle: not House Republicans, who are weakened by division despite returning with a majority; but, rather, reality. There is no money left to achieve what Obama wants do to, or to pay for commitments he has already made; neither is there the capacity in the federal government to carry out his new regulatory plans, nor the will among the general public to tolerate more of them.
Already, the president’s policy agenda is overshadowed by a looming fight over the debt ceiling, the federal budget, and the deferred cuts to defense and social spending in the “sequester.” Unemployment remains stubbornly high and economic growth is sluggish. Abroad, the threat of a nuclear Iran looms larger than ever, and the president’s claims to have set Al Qaeda on a path to defeat are belied by the group’s resurgence in Africa.
If he cannot enact his policies fully, however, President Obama can still hope to begin the transformation of American government and society for which he has long hoped. To that end, he intends to shatter Republican resistance on principles that have long been the consensus view in Washington and which the left has been determined to destroy, because they interfere with its goals of social democracy and (leftist) world governance.
The president knows that large victories may be impossible, and he is uninterested in “grand bargains” that might serve the national interest at the price of compromise from both sides. Instead, he is content to aim hgh and settle for symbolically powerful victories that can reset public expectations and provide the foundation for future leftist gains.
The recent “fiscal cliff” deal is a case in point. The president only managed to achieve a small concession from Republicans--namely, an income tax hike on households earning more than $450,000, yielding a paltry amount of revenue. But what was important for Obama was that Republicans had accepted a tax hike for the first time in two decades. Likewise with Obama’s new gun control measures. Few are likely to pass Congress, but any that do will be seen as having broken the power of the National Rifle Association.
The same strategy is unfolding in national security, where Obama is not only reducing the defense budget dramatically but has also appointed a determined critic of Israel, former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE). In doing so, he has demonstrated the limits of the so-called “Israel lobby,” delighting the left-wing minority that has been working hard to disrupt the U.S.-Israel alliance and humbling another potential source of opposition.
In sum: President Obama’s second term will be preoccupied, at least initially, with small wins that make bigger changes possible, both after the 2014 midterm elections and long after he leaves office in 2017. Each political battle will be accompanied by a maximum of propaganda and demagoguery--the use (abuse?) of children on gun control is just the beginning--to convince Americans to shun, and feel ashamed of, political opposition.
As it did during the Obamacare fight--another “Trojan horse” designed to enable bigger plans in the future--the White House will use the president’s former campaign to agitate and organize in favor of his policies. The New York Times notes that “the president’s former campaign aides in the weeks ahead will convert the Obama for America operation into a different kind of outside political group...to raise money for grass-roots campaigning on behalf of the president’s second-term agenda, they said.”
It is even possible that Obama could continue campaigning for his agenda long after he leaves office, returning to his occupation as a community organizer but in charge of the world’s most formidable data mining and fundraising machine.
The second Obama term may not be the final act, but merely the prologue, to the left’s long-awaited revolution.