The Way Ahead

Common Sense predicted last December that the two best things that could happen to President Obama in 2010, paradoxically, would be to suffer two major defeats. He avoided defeat on healthcare, but took a “shellacking” in the mid-term elections.

His ‘victory’ on healthcare was a disaster for his prospects in 2012. The old will endure cuts in Medicare. The middle-aged will see their premiums rise. The young will be forced to take out insurance, and most will get no help to do so. Much of this will be beginning to bite by 2012.

By contrast, the President was fortunate enough to see his party face its worst result in the House elections for decades. He now has the opportunity to spend the next two years blaming everything on the Republican leadership in the House. Given that he has spent his first two years blaming everything on George W Bush, he will not be hesitant in doing this.

But do Obama and the Democratic leadership in Washington have the necessary political skills to pass the buck in this way? He seems to be a one-note politician. The upbeat certainty of his own rectitude worked well as an opposition candidate. He remains calm under pressure, and always speaks with great clarity. In striking contrast to John McCain, he did not panic when Lehman Brothers collapsed. The massive stimulus may look like a panic measure, but it is fully in accordance with the ideological certainty that underpins Barack Obama. He wanted to expand government anyway: the financial crisis was the excuse on which he hung his plans.

In office, people want more from their President than rigidity. He cannot emote the way George W Bush and Bill Clinton could. He not only doesn’t feel your pain, he is puzzled by it. If you are worried, it is merely because you cannot understand all the wonderful things he has done for you and, frankly, that’s your fault.

Nor is Barack Obama capable of ‘triangulating’ the way Bill Clinton did. Clinton tried to position himself as equidistant between the extreme liberals in the Democratic Party and the staunch conservatives who took over Congress in 1994. Obama is not likely to attempt such a strategy, but it would lack credibility if he did. No-one thinks that Obama is a moderate Democrat. He is on his party’s far left. Nor is John Boehnor the polarizing figure that Newt Gingrich was.

Clinton was not only more skilled, he was in a more fortunate position. His signature policy – healthcare ‘reform’ – had been defeated even before his party lost control of Congress. He could drop the policy and make the inevitable seem like a grand concession. Obama’s ‘reform’ is now law. The House will pass a bill to repeal it, but that will probably founder in the Senate. The next two years will be devoted to repeating the very debates which put the President on the opposite side to the American people.

Meanwhile Nancy Pelosi wishes to stay on as Democratic leader in the House. She is even less popular than the President. The Minority has one fewer leadership slots, and it looks like being her moderate deputy, Steny Hoyer, who is purged. She tried to squeeze him out four years ago. The more liberal Democratic rump will probably oblige her this time.

Article provided by Quentin Langley
Lecturer in PR and Political Communications,
School of Journalism, Cardiff University

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