President Obama – Lame duck?
President Barack Obama’s campaigns have been famously successful in large part due to the well oiled grassroots movements that Organizing for America structured. In the wake of his second national campaign victory, Organizing for America is no longer, replaced by Organizing for Action — a much smaller group of supporters, but supporters armed with all of the knowledge and resources of Organizing for America. Organizing for Action’s goal is to harness the momentum of a winning campaign into actual policy gains during Obama’s second term. It’s a nationwide movement, started by former Obama aides, all about keeping volunteers and donors involved in the political ‘process.’
In a recent address to the group, President Obama said, “I’ve run my last campaign. But we’re not done with the work that led me to run in the first place,” and “I actually just want to govern — at least for a couple of years.” That sort of governing above campaigning is exactly what I’m hoping to see him accomplish in his second term.
I want to see him use Organizing for Action to pursue the agenda he set out in his 2012 campaign: gun control, national debt, immigration reform, and foreign policy. It will be an uphill battle all the way as Congressional Republicans seem to be increasingly unwilling to compromise or cooperate.
The president entered his second term with a smaller vote share than he had in 2008. Some say that this deflation in popularity means he’s already a lame duck, that he has lost almost all popular support and will struggle to pass any meaningful legislation. I don’t think so. I’m not a gambler, but I must admit that the president is up against some long odds. He faces an uncooperative and Republican-filled legislature, dwindling popularity among the electorate, and very little time to work with Congress to push through some important policies.
Odds aside, I don’t think he’s reached lame duck status quite yet, but he’s close. With the uncooperative Republican majority in the House, and at least five Republican votes necessary to reach 60 in the Senate, the president is going to have a hard time pushing through much powerful legislation — and certainly nothing on par with the same sweeping impact of the Affordable Care Act.
That being said, President Obama should pursue a strategy that on first glance seems counterintuitive. The best plan of action for the president in the next year and a half before midterm elections is to remain staunchly partisan. Yes, he should seek the cooperation of the Republicans, but not abandon the goals and initiatives of his platform. The Republican Party is currently so fractured and fragmented that he has a while to try to push through his own agenda before he becomes a completely lame duck and he is reduced to issuing executive orders on controversial issues the night before he leaves office.
With a strong and steady grassroots push from enough of the population through initiatives like Organizing for Action, many Republicans will likely side with the president if he just stays partisan. Let’s take immigration reform as an example. It’s especially important that he stick to his political guns on this issue.
The president drew a lot of his support in the 2012 campaign from Hispanic voter turnout across America. And the Republican Party took notice. Many prominent members of the G.O.P. seem to realize that they’re not going to make any headway with the majority of Hispanic voters unless and until they compromise on issues like immigration. As one of the fastest growing demographics in the U.S., Hispanic voters are going to be an increasingly important population in coming election years.
It’s feasible for President Obama to push through the immigration legislation he promised voters while on the campaign trail, because at least some parts of the Republican Party finally see the necessity of appealing to the Hispanic electorate. It makes political sense for everybody to move a little more toward the left-center on immigration policy.
For the most part, we’ll have to wait and see how midterm elections shake up the numbers in Congress, to see if the second half of Obama’s second term in office is more symbolic than anything else. But for now, I hope he uses the next year and a half to push through at least some of the reforms he promised during his campaigns. He might even have a shot at using Organizing for Action to push through gun control or financial reforms that might not slip past a hypothetical, future, stronger, more united Republican Congress.
Without grassroots popular support, there would be little motivation for many members of Congress (who are facing reelection) to support controversial measures that they otherwise might not. I hope the next year and a half sees the president make good on his words and work to govern more than campaign. And I hope Congress follows suit. And, heck, if after the midterms he ends up signing executive orders like nobody’s business, then maybe we’ll actually see some progress on the gun control front.
photo by The White House: http://www.flickr.com/photos/whitehouse/8555071714/in/photostream/lightbox/