As we head into the President’s annual trip up Pennsylvania Avenue to the House for the State of the Union (SOTU), talk of a more functional federal government is but a faint glimmer on the horizon. Instead, the typical dysfunction that Americans have grown to expect looks likely to intensify for the Obama Administration’s final two years.
The prospect of Barack Obama extending an olive branch and even attempting to work with a new GOP majority Congress was largely squashed even before Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader McConnell were sworn into office. Sure, pro-forma meetings were held and hands were shaken but there’s no willingness to engage, little trust and no desire to lead from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Some time ago, President Obama and his advisors did the political math and calculated that Obama’s legacy rests not in the art of the compromise but instead on conflict. Freed from trying to protect a Democrat Senate, President Obama unleashed a unilateral fury unseen since the 2012 campaign. Triangulation and deal cutting, which Bill Clinton made famous, won’t be found in this White House’s lexicon. Barack Obama is no dealmaker. He believes he wins by dividing.
This legacy protection philosophy started with the President’s executive actions following the 2014 elections. Since returning from his holiday vacation, Barack Obama has ramped-up his left-leaning campaign rhetoric as a lead-up to the SOTU. But, unlike year’s past, where the SOTU was a significant event, now it’s just another speech to a less supportive audience. In fact, it makes for boring television. Fewer and fewer Americans watch, instead preferring thousands of other television, cable or Internet shows.
The new aggressive posture has re-energized a bored President Obama. He has his swagger back. Coming on the heels of a 2014 GOP wave election, the President’s unilateral actions and ramped up rhetoric have the added benefit of re-energizing the Democrat base. Equally important, the liberal, mainstream media laps up the President’s executive actions and new big government proposals. Let’s face it, the media complains about gridlock but they’ll ultimately blame the GOP and know it makes for interesting news.
The president needs both of these Democrat allies to combat the evil, mean-spirited Republican Congressional menace – a “battle” which will be fought during a messy, loud appropriations process to determine the federal government’s size, scope and budget. Obama knows his legacy is at risk by a GOP Congressional majority. Pre-SOTU and SOTU is one battle in a much lengthier war…one where Obama fired the first shots.
The policy proposals floated by President Obama and his minions as a SOTU lead-up have been called “pie in the sky,” unserious and most likely will go nowhere: free community college; paid sick days and paid family leave; government-run high-speed Internet access; on-going calls to raise the minimum wage; and just this past weekend a $320 billion soak-the-rich, “tax fairness” proposal that purports to help lower and middle-class voters. But, that hasn’t stopped Barack Obama.
Mix in these policy and tax hike proposals with a threat of pre-SOTU Presidential vetoes – five on domestic and international issues – plus an announcement that the Administration released five Yemeni terrorists from Gitmo just days after the tragedy that occurred in France – and you have additional evidence of an Administration is girding for a fight and sees few options other than going it alone for the next two years.
Likely casualties from the Obama confrontation strategy are efforts to reform the U.S. tax code that both parties acknowledge is outdated, inefficient and anti-competitive; pass entitlement reform; move forward with much-needed free trade pacts, which Democrats in the Senate have blocked; and create more than a “window-dressing” policy to fight global terrorism (Obama’s leading from behind strategy isn’t working).
Ultimately, the SOTU will further solidify the President’s commitment to unilateralism. In Obama’s mind, his way is the only way. His legacy is best written and preserved by rallying the base, taking executive action whenever possible and vetoing any attempt by Congress to unwind his hard left turn during the previous six years.
If you thought the last six years were ugly, get ready for two more years of fighting and even worse gridlock.
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Matt Klink is a seasoned public affairs and political consultant who has worked on issue and candidate campaigns at the global and domestic level. Find out more about Klink Campaigns at www.klinkcampaigns.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattklink.