President Barack Obama was officially sworn in to his second term on Sunday around noon. And in so doing kicked off a tsunami of “what will he govern like this time around” posts and predictions across the interwebs.
The consensus, by and large, is that over the course of his first term and reelection Obama has morphed from a goes-along-to-get-along schlub of a leader to a fearless shit-kicker who won’t back down from a fight. This wasn’t exactly an unplanned change of persona and tone.
As one of Obama’s top advisers explained to CNN’s David Gerson, “Just watch, he will win re-election decisively and then he will throw down the gauntlet to the Republicans, insisting they raise taxes on the wealthy.”
This new, ballsier Obama didn’t wilt back to his former self after the debt limit fight. He charged head first into a gun control debate, arguably trampling over the Constitution in the process, by issuing 23 executive orders, and demanding that Congress do more. He’s already begun to push hard for a comprehensive, uncompromising immigration reform bill that may push for amnesty for undocumented residents. There is no doubt that he’ll also try and take another crack at enacting some form of cap-and-trade or a carbon tax.
But many liberals are encouraging him not just to stop there. To not settle on a progressive policy agenda. No, they want him to rip apart the Republican party.
“The president who came into office speaking in lofty terms about bipartisanship and cooperation can only cement his legacy if he destroys the GOP,” writes Slate’s John Dickerson. “If he wants to transform American politics, he must go for the throat.”
Will this new hard-nosed Obama succeed in the long-term? It’s easy to see why it won’t.
Republicans are drifting back towards the moderate center after their disappointing performance in the 2012 elections. They dropped their line-in-the-sand approach to tax increases on the wealthy, they are clearly willing to negotiate on the debt ceiling, and they too, led by Sen. Marco Rubio, are developing an immigration reform package. But while Republicans move toward the middle, Obama is running even further to the left, away from the very people who elected him.
This is the same problem, albeit in reverse, that Republicans found themselves in after the 2010 midterms.
The lesson, both in 2010 and throughout history, should teach you to be emboldened, but not arrogant. Confident, but not brash. And conciliatory, not uncompromising. Obama is currently choosing the former in each and every case. But will America like the new Obama? That’s unclear. As Gerson writes for CNN:
While a majority of Americans now approve of Obama’s job performance, conservatives increasingly believe that in his new toughness, he is going overboard, trying to run over them. They don’t see a president who wants to roll up his sleeves and negotiate; they see a president who wants to barnstorm the country to beat them up.
For that matter will Obama like the new Obama? As recently as December President Obama said that the biggest problem in Washington was partisan animosity, which was holding back their ability to get anything done.
“[A]t some point, they’ve got to take me out of it and think about their voters, and think about what’s best for the country,” Obama said, referencing Republicans’ seeming difficulty in saying ‘yes’ to him. “And if they do that – if they’re not worried about who’s winning and who’s losing; did they score a point on the president; did they extract that last little concession; did they force him to do something he really doesn’t want to do just for the heck of it—and they focus on actually what’s good for the country, I actually think we can get this done.”
It’s tough to see how “throwing down the gauntlet” or “going for the throat” gets him any closer to getting anything done. It will show him as a president who is more interested in point scoring than legislating. And I imagine that voters will see right through it.