A New, Emboldened Obama?

White House Photo
White House Photo

In “Operation Revenge,” Glenn Thrush at Politico paints a portrait of a Barack Obama who needs to feel a sense of competition and a somewhat lethargic executive who needs “a slap in the face” to motivate him.

The contention is that the Supreme Court threat to his legacy around the funding mechanism for Obamacare and the disastrous mid-term election have been something of a wake up call to an otherwise disengaged Obama.

“He needs to run, to compete – or more to the point, he needs someone to run against,” a former top Obama adviser told me.

He’s got that now, in a Republican-controlled Capitol Hill. Obama, a political counterpuncher who often needs a slap in the face to wake up, got a gut-shot in November. The Democrats’ staggering loss in the midterms – like his disastrous performance in the first presidential debate against Mitt Romney in 2012 – seems to have jolted him to the realization that he’ll have to act boldly to preserve what he’d assumed was a settled legacy. (The Supreme Court’s decision to scrutinize the funding mechanism of the Affordable Care Act, in particular, has sent a shudder through the West Wing and provided an unexpected challenge from another hostile branch of government.)

This supposedly new Obama would jibe perfectly with what is being portrayed as a power grab. But given that it was known in September, that also undercuts the narrative that this is somehow reactive by indicating that Obama planned to up the ante on his imperial presidency all along.

On September 4th at Sen Harry Reid’s “annual energy conference, where green-tech-industry players, environmentalists, and politicians” meet to discuss their agenda, ongoing or preferred, Center for American Progress founder and White House insider John Podesta blandly presented what may be the greatest presidential power grab in American history, but the media is only getting around to telling people about it now.

National Journal now describes it as Podesta “speaking as counselor to President Obama and the main force behind one the most aggressive policy strategies this White House has deployed”.

Another factor in this equation is a new sense of freedom he allegedly now feels, given that he’s free of having to run again. Whatever one thinks of the supposed psychology beneath it, it’s clear that Obama is intent on expanding the reach of his presidency, and Republicans are going to have their hands full reining him in.

Obama is sure to strike the usual let’s-work-together tone at Friday’s press conference, but it’s clear to anyone who follows him closely that the president is trying to escape from the Washington sausage works and define his own agenda.

“’Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose’ — Barack and Bobby McGee,” says former Clinton press secretary Mike McCurry. “President Obama is free to take the risks and use executive authority that will either make him a much more popular president with rising approval rates or get him impeached by a Republican Congress that won’t be able to control itself. We can contemplate the possibility of each result while smoking a Cuban cigar.”

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich says Obama’s newly aggressive stance – exemplified by his unilateral moves on immigration and Cuba – poses an early challenge to new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and to House Speaker John Boehner, who are trying to re-shape the GOP into a party that can actually run a government. “Mitch and Boehner have to deal with the fact that Obama is becoming bolder and more radical,” Gingrich told me a few days before Obama announced his move to normalize relations with Cuba.


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