President Obama has violated Rule 7 of Saul Alinsky’s 13 Rules for Radicals: “A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag. Don’t become old news.”
As Obama failed to leverage his reelection position of strength into fiscal cliff and sequester victories, the American public has become exhausted with his endless political drama. Obama’s falling poll numbers suggest the President is becoming a “lame-duck” after just the first two months of his term. Facing the risk of impotency, I believe the he will politically “triangulate” to pick up a quick bipartisan victory with Congressional approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline and initiating America’s first carbon tax.
Each generation has a political insurgent who plays by a new set of rules that over-whelms his own party’s establishment, captures the presidency, and then implements a major shift in public policy that lasts for decades. With virtually no money and little name recognition, Barack Obama employed Alinsky’s Rule 3: “Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the enemy. Look for ways to increase insecurity, anxiety and uncertainty.” Through a community organizing strategy based on emerging social media tools, he humiliated the anointed Hillary Clinton, and then went on to befuddle Republicans by capturing the presidency and both houses of Congress for the first time since the 1960s.
Over the next two years, the President passed Obamacare as the largest expansion of social welfare spending since President Lyndon Johnson passed Medicare. Although his party paid a price for running ahead of public opinion in the 2010 mid-term elections by losing control of the House of Representative, his personal polling remained high. Obama stormed back to another win in 2012 by employing Rule 13 to make the election a mandate against the rich: “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it. Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions.”
Maybe it was ego, but the President forgot Rule 12: “The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative. Never let the enemy score points because you’re caught without a solution to the problem.” After the defeated Republicans offered to meet his election campaign demand for $800 billion in tax increases, the victorious President raised his demand to $1.6 trillion and threatened to let the mostly middle class Bush tax cuts expire if he didn’t get his way. The audacity of the President’s ultimatum united Republicans against further concessions. The deadline expired and it was the President who capitulated by accepting a $750 billion tax increase, which the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center reports costs 77% of American households higher federal taxes. Last week, the President continued his losing streak by failing to negotiate an alternative to the $85 billion federal sequester spending cuts.
The President’s over-reaching violated Rule 9: “The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself. Imagination and ego can dream up many more consequences than any activist.” Since winning reelection and presenting his aggressive liberal agenda in his Inaugural Address on January 21, the Zogby poll has the President’s approval rating plummeting from 57% to 51%. “He has lost several points among independents and younger voters,” said Zogby. Republicans have lost their fear of the President’s power and know that Bill Clinton is the only president since FDR to pick up seats during his second mid-term election. With the poll showing most voters see United States on “wrong track,” if the Republicans can frustrate the President’s agenda, he will be a lame duck in 19 months.
With the President losing momentum, I believe he will employ Rule 8 to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline: “Keep the pressure on. Never let up. Keep trying new things to keep the opposition off balance. As the opposition masters one approach, hit them from the flank with something new.” Voters support the pipeline to transport Canadian tar sands oil to refineries in the United States by a 70-23% margin. I expect the President to turn the approval into a liberal and environmentalist victory by forcing Republicans to approve the first precedent of a carbon tax on imported oil.
Barack Obama has had a rough going lately, because he abandoned the strategy that vaulted him into the presidency. By getting back on the Rules for Radicals playbook, he can regain presidential momentum and put enormous pressure on the congressional Republicans by making them vote for or against a Keystone XL Pipeline bill that contains America’s first carbon tax.