Quotes of the day

Last year, when the blogger and amateur gynecologist Andrew Sullivan published a Newsweek cover story proclaiming Barack Obama the liberal Ronald Reagan, conservatives mocked him. No one deserves mockery more than Sullivan—well, maybe Paul Krugman—but in this case the criticism was misplaced. On the eve of his second inauguration, we ought to face the unpleasant fact that Obama will be remembered as a president of achievement and consequence. It does not matter if, like I do, you think those achievements are horrible and that their consequences will be worse. Obama’s reversal of the Reagan revolution is here

He wrote critically of Reagan in his first book. But, by his 2008 campaign for the presidency, he had developed something of an appreciation for our fortieth president. It soon became clear that Obama sought to be more like Reagan than Reagan’s successors had been—but in a way that would negate those aspects of Reagan’s legacy that liberals found distasteful. Obama sought to be the anti-Reagan, sought to restore the liberal consensus that prevailed in Washington prior to January 1981. He was not a revolutionary. He was a counterrevolutionary…

Conservatives and Republicans, unlike in 2008, had been so confident of the president’s unpopularity, had so believed in the possibility that the election would be a close if not decisive victory for Mitt Romney, that they were legitimately shocked when the networks called 2012 for Obama within hours of the polls closing. The stunned silence was accompanied by the growing realization that the country was no longer the same place that had installed the Reagan Revolution. Political power had lulled the Republicans and conservatives into a complacent attitude towards the popular culture, mass media, and civil society. They had viewed the 2006 and 2008 elections as temporary boons for the Democrats that would be corrected when the public came to its senses and resumed the progress of the conservative tide. What 2012 proved was that their hypothesis was incorrect.


Americans should expect a more assertive President Barack Obama in his second term as he faces tough battles with Republicans, one of his top aides said on Thursday…

She pointed to a number of executive steps that Obama took last year under the “we can’t wait” program of pushing ahead with items that do not need congressional approval.

“I think you’ll see more of his flexing his authority to use executive action, to take executive action in areas so he can do everything he can,” Deparle said.


Why is Obama unable to compromise? I think there are both personal and political reasons. Far more than other politicians, Obama is convinced of the rightness of whatever he proposes. As best I can tell, this is not merely an excess of self-confidence. It’s a vanity, a conceit. On top of that, Obama regards practically everything Republicans want as ideologically toxic.

He was spoiled in his first two years as president. Democrats had overwhelming majorities in the House and Senate, so he got most of what he wanted—Obamacare, stimulus—without the need to compromise with Republicans for their votes.

When those majorities vanished in the GOP landslide in 2010, Obama was confronted with a Republican House and a barely Democratic Senate. He still hasn’t adjusted. And with reelection, he doesn’t think he has to. He believes it’s time for Republicans to knuckle under.


I may be earnest, but I’m not an idiot. I know there is little chance that today’s partisan players are going to adopt this kind of incremental goo-goo approach. It’s more likely that today’s majority party is going to adopt a different strategy, which you might call Kill the Wounded. It’s more likely that today’s Democrats are going to tell themselves something like this:

“We live at a unique moment. Our opponents, the Republicans, are divided, confused and bleeding. This is not the time to allow them to rebuild their reputation with a series of modest accomplishments. This is the time to kick them when they are down, to win back the House and end the current version of the Republican Party.

“First, we change the narrative. The president ran in 2008 against Washington dysfunction, casting blame on both parties. Over the years, he has migrated to a different narrative: The Republicans are crazy. Washington could be working fine, but the Republicans are crazy.

“At every public appearance, the president should double-down on that theme. The Democratic base already believes it. The media is sympathetic. Independents could be persuaded.


Obama’s only remaining option is to pulverize. Whether he succeeds in passing legislation or not, given his ambitions, his goal should be to delegitimize his opponents. Through a series of clarifying fights over controversial issues, he can force Republicans to either side with their coalition’s most extreme elements or cause a rift in the party that will leave it, at least temporarily, in disarray.

This theory of political transformation rests on the weaponization (and slight bastardization) of the work by Yale political scientist Stephen Skowronek. Skowronek has written extensively about what distinguishes transformational presidents from caretaker presidents. In order for a president to be transformational, the old order has to fall as the orthodoxies that kept it in power exhaust themselves. Obama’s gambit in 2009 was to build a new post-partisan consensus. That didn’t work, but by exploiting the weaknesses of today’s Republican Party, Obama has an opportunity to hasten the demise of the old order by increasing the political cost of having the GOP coalition defined by Second Amendment absolutists, climate science deniers, supporters of “self-deportation” and the pure no-tax wing…

The president already appears to be headed down this path. He has admitted he’s not going to spend much time improving his schmoozing skills; he’s going to get outside of Washington to ratchet up public pressure on Republicans. He is transforming his successful political operation into a governing operation. It will have his legacy and agenda in mind—and it won’t be affiliated with the Democratic National Committee, so it will be able to accept essentially unlimited donations. The president tried to use his political arm this way after the 2008 election, but he was constrained by re-election and his early promises of bipartisanship. No more. Those days are done.


So here is what is utterly remarkable: President Obama has been using the days and weeks leading up to his inauguration to show the depth of his disdain for the leaders of the other major party and, by inference, that party’s voters, which is to say more or less half the country. He has been spending his time alienating instead of summoning. It has left the political air more sour and estranged.

As a presidential style this is something strange and new. That has to be said again: It is new, and does not augur well…

Maybe the president doesn’t operate with as much good faith as he thinks, and maybe the other side isn’t as bad as he pretends. As I watched his news conference and his gun-control remarks, I thought, for the first time in a while, that the Republicans are finally getting a break.

He is overplaying his hand.

He does that. He’s doing it again.


[A]nyone who disagrees with him isn’t merely wrong but is morally corrupt and on the take. This tone increasingly defines his Presidency.

This is thrilling to his supporters on the left, who long for a Liberal Lancelot to destroy the barbarian Republicans. And perhaps that is the role that Mr. Obama wants to play. Certainly his appointments and priorities since November suggest a political strategy intended to demonize Republicans with the main goal of restoring Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House…

This may explain Mr. Obama’s behavior, but it also comes with significant risks. For one thing, he is further polarizing the electorate in a way that will make it even harder for him to get Republican votes on immigration and guns. Maybe this will re-elect Ms. Pelosi in 2014, but instead it could jeopardize Democrats running in states carried by Mitt Romney. Mr. Obama’s coalition doesn’t dominate Alaska, Arkansas or Montana beyond Bozeman.

The bigger risk is economic. Mr. Obama has managed to skirt responsibility for anemic growth by claiming that it is the fault of George W. Bush and everyone before that. His solution is always more public spending without end. The political statute of limitations on this excuse will eventually run out.


Obama’s convincing win over Mitt Romney in November has proven to be a powerful lever in his negotiations with Republicans so far, contributing to his success in fiscal cliff negotiations and helping to drive his approval numbers into the mid-50s for the first time in years. People close to the president cite the 2012 win as a liberating event, one that freed him to stand tough against his enemies. The problem — and it grows with each passing day leading up to the next election — is that Obama’s damn-the-torpedoes attitude is out of sync with the mind-set of his own party. Twenty Senate Democrats face reelection in 2014, compared with 13 Republicans, many of those Democrats in hard-to-hold states like North Carolina, West Virginia, Louisiana and Arkansas. “He’s never been really that attuned to the Hill in the first place,” says a former Obama aide. “Now that he’s not running for anything, he’s increasingly out of sync. That increases the likelihood he leads and no one follows.”

That potential gap is already yawning. Obama’s new package of gun controls, especially those involving restrictions on assault rifles, drew a noticeably tepid response from some Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who hasn’t even guaranteed the up-or-down vote Obama demanded earlier this week…

If he thinks too big, he risks alienating the Hill Democrats who will increasingly control his fate — and overstepping his electoral mandate. Think too small and Obama threatens to tarnish his legacy for audacity by playing school-uniform small ball as Clinton did — while turning off his base of liberal supporters who already doubt his willingness to fight their battles.


As President Barack Obama approaches his second inaugural on Monday, he presides over a party that has largely papered over its divisions for the past four years thanks to the president’s commanding popularity.

But almost as soon as the echo of Obama’s inaugural address fades and he instantly becomes a lame duck, Democrats are going to have to face a central and unresolved question about their political identity: Will they become a center-left, DLC-by-a-different-name party or return to a populist, left-leaning approach that mirrors their electoral coalition?

An immediate answer may come in the entitlement debate and whether Obama and congressional Democrats will agree to any Social Security or Medicare benefit cuts to achieve deficit reduction, said a wide-ranging group of Democratic elected officials and strategists…

“I hope we’re the party of math,” said Markell, saying of the eventual costs of Medicare and Social Security: “It doesn’t make any sense to put our head in the sand on this issue.”


The much larger hurdle facing contemporary liberalism is the need to reconfigure the welfare state in ways that maintain popular support while addressing a host of conflicting forces:

— The aging of the population is steadily reducing the ratio of workers to retirees, expanding the “dependency ratio,” even as global competition drives governments worldwide to reduce corporate and individual taxes, cutting off the revenues to finance social welfare spending.

— Other demographic trends, particularly the erosion of supportive extended family networks and the rising numbers of single elderly, serve to increase the demands for benefits from the welfare state.

— Austerity policies enacted in response to high deficit and debt levels have resulted in increased voter suspicion of the “undeserving” poor and of “free riders” who are perceived as getting more out of government programs than they pay in, weakening support for the welfare state. Similarly, means testing old-age income security initiatives – particularly Social Security –would inevitably undermine universal support.

Liberalism now faces the job of paying for its own success in helping people live longer.


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“Many Americans simply will not listen, and even worse, they are not smart enough… to even care. Disaster could be coming.”

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