Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Obama Pivots Towards Re-Election

The Obama administration has a profound sense of irony. Obama announced his formal re-election bid on Monday. The same day his administration reversed its position to prosecute 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) in a civil US court. KSM will now face a military tribunal in Guantanamo.  In a very revealing comment Tom Daschle, mentor to freshman senator Obama, said in a documentary that he advised Obama to run for presidency despite being a freshman senator. Daschle said he told Obama "since you are new you will not have any votes to defend". Yes, that's how Obama started, emboldened that he had nothing to answer for. After 4 years Obama will have a lot to answer for.

When Obama delivered his, barely noteworthy, inaugural address he chided Bush for undermining the image of America with military tribunals and Guantanamo. Bush was wistfully looking away into the heavens while the pompous lotus eater delivered platitude after platitude after all never having had the need to shoulder any governing responsibility Obama had sailed into office powered by bromides.. Actually for all those who liked some parts of Bush's presidency especially the clarity on the necessity of wire tapping, Guantanamo, military tribunals, advocating a surge strategy to shore up a sagging war, tax cuts etc Obama is our candidate. On every one of those President Obama brazenly overturned candidate Obama. At least he is not ideologically beholden.

The problem for his beloved left wing is that he is not ideologically beholden. When Obama and Pelosi presided over the worst drubbing Democrats had received in a generation the chatterati were busy lecturing how he should learn from Bill Clinton but everyone wondered would he learn. Learn, he did, in lightning speed. Obama replaced his outgoing chief of staff with a dyed in the wool Wall Street veteran sending his worshippers into an apoplexy. To add insult to that injury, in what he dressed up as pragmatic politics, he shook hands with republicans extending the much reviled Bush tax cuts. Does anybody remember how every democrat shrieked from every available roof top how those tax cuts were for the rich and how they HAVE to be rolled back? Obama was its cheer leader only to abandon it with zero concessions from the republicans infuriating the left.

Obama's constituency is less than glassy eyed now. Many independents have deserted him by the droves. Republicans who voted for him are no longer in his camp. The left is mostly bitter. When he named abrasive foul mouthed Rahm Emmanuel as his Chief of Staff the 'Change' candidates sheen started dimming. When he appointed one ex-Clinton official after another the 'change' devotees started scratching their heads as to why they did not vote for Clinton herself. Finally he capped it off by appointing Hillary as secretary of state. The real rub was re-appointing key Bush appointee Defense secretary Robert Gates. Of course his spin masters went overdrive calling him a Lincoln for our ages. If appointing ones electoral foes is all it takes to become a Lincoln then one could argue that any cigar smoking politician is a Churchill re-incarnated.

Obama, to his credit, also has several signal achievements. Health care reform is still a battle that is far from complete. He completely muddled the reform then regained the initiative  but failed to sell it as an achievement. Ending 'dont ask don't tell' for the military making it possible for Gays and Lesbians to serve openly corrected a long standing sore point in the last bastion of moral conservatism, the US military.

All the rest pale into insignificance before the gargantuan task of steady the US economy that was staring into the abyss. Though Bush took the key unpopular decisions Obama continued them (yet another reason for those like Bush's leadership on crises t o support Obama). He again angered the left appointing as Secretary of treasury a typical Wall Street guy, Tim Geithner. He continued to anger the left by re-appointing Ben Bernanke as Fed Chairman. Now the left was wondering if the Obama Presidency is nothing but soaring (as they call it) oratory papered over Bush+Clinton appointees.

The economy, no credit to Obama, is doing better. That its not doing better is entirely due to Obama and democratic congress muddling over the so called Financial regulation. Unemployment while edging down is still at 8.9%. Under-employment is much higher. Housing is stuck. Home prices fell appreciatively last year and continues to fall.

So, can Obama be defeated? Yes. Is his defeat to be taken for granted? Not at all. In the post-world-war-II presidency only three times have sitting Presidents been defeated. Gerard Ford lost due to the shadow of Watergate and his pardoning of Nixon. Carter was defeated for his defeatist attitude. Despite winning a war and despite the economy starting to rebound an increasingly out of touch George H.W.Bush lost. Reagan and Clinton won the presidency by convincing Americans that they need to change their president and that they are better off with a new comer.

A republican candidate has to convince average Americans that they would fare better under a new president. Name calling, whining about Obama, scaremongering etc will not win the presidency. A candidate has to articulate an alternate vision, convince voters that he/she would deliver it.

While Obama has fired the first salvo, Republicans are still sitting out. Obama is now setting the agenda. Obama's money machine is now going into overdrive. Obama is widely expected to become history first $1 Billion candidate shattering all spending records. Of course he will decline public funding. In 2008 he broke his handwritten pledge to take public funding. Of course a few editorials bemoaned that hypocrisy his spin masters won the day saying he needed to unshackle himself to face the republican message machine and thinly disguised corporate donors. Today the same reasons are offered. It was a blatant lie in 2008, its a blatant lie in 2012.

While many names are doing the rounds amongst republicans no one is a clear front runner. This is a first for the GOP which believes in anointing a candidate unlike the raucous Democrats. Any republican candidate has to raise money for a lengthy primary and then raise more money to face Obama the money machine. Note that any money Obama raises is reserved exclusively for the general election.

A sitting President has some formidable advantages. He owns the bully pulpit. He is still the President anything he says or does is effortlessly afforded important news cycle. His constituency is out there to propagate and defend his positions free of cost.

The challengers are not without advantages either. In debate after debate during lengthy primary season Obama will have to endure partisan criticism on prime TV with no way to offer defensive repartees. An entire year would go by before he could offer face-to-face rebuttal. While Obama's cash advantage is forbidding, that alone cannot guarantee an electoral win else Rockefeller would be president. Obama himself learnt that lesson during the Pennsylvania, Texas and Ohio primaries. Despite being the presumptive nominee he outspent Hillary 3-to-1 only to lose. Despite his cash advantage over McCain his win, while solid, was not a landslide and was not an easy one.

In a final ironical twist Obama enters his election year having invaded a Muslim country. I intend to blog separately on the Libya War. Suffice it to say yet again President Obama conveniently overruled candidate Obama. As candidate Obama had said US President can send armed forces into a conflict, without express approval from Congress, ONLY when there was imminent threat to national security. At all other times, then candidate opined, the President has to seek congressional approval. As President he gladly sent US armed forces into combat, in a situation that has no imminent threat to US security, without even meeting congressional leaders let alone getting Congress' approval. Coming to think of it I wonder is there any position of his that he has not repudiated.