Even before the midterms, President Barack Obama was sending clumsy signals to his allies that the GOP would not long enjoy their ascendancy.
Members of his administration promised a “counter-attack” following their anticipated defeat. When the voters’ rebuke materialized, the president took to the stage in the White House to insist that he was “elected by everybody” while his political opponents enjoy the support of only one-third of the electorate. “They’re going to see Washington working better if this president has his way,” White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough smirked.
Obama has, with the aid of a political press enthralled by the tension and drama they have woven out of perfect stasis, managed to foster an air of anticipation. It permeates virtually every newscast and article that mentions this lame duck president. Fraught with expectancy, the words hang on broadcasters’ lips: “What will Obama do next?”
“We do know the administration has said it will do something,” CNN Washington correspondent Joe Johns said on Monday morning while standing outside of a lifeless White House facade. Obama has been threatening to spark what Ross Douthat fears will be a constitutional crisis when he unilaterally enacts portions of a failed Senate immigration bill to which he was partial. Johns observed that the nation’s collective anticipation is centered primarily on what actions the president plans to take on immigration.
“The question is, what will happen if the president does move forward on his executive action on immigration and what form will that action take?” Johns asked. “We’re all just going to have to wait right here at the White House and see.”
The potential power which Obama threatens to unleash on the nation is palpable even outside the nation’s capital. Ernesto Perez, the 44-year-old illegal immigrant who has lived in this country for nearly 20 years and has fathered four children here, is also excited for the prospect of unilateral action by Obama which could provide him with legal status, according to The San Jose Mercury News.
“Amid the anticipation of what Obama might do, there’s excitement but also fear about backlash over one of the most contentious issues of our time,” The Mercury News reported.
“My advice at this point to the Democrats, and to the president in particular, is: take a breath,” former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney advised when asked to preemptively weigh in on Obama’s still formative actions on immigration. One wonders why the president must be reminded to breathe – the man hasn’t moved.
Unsurprisingly, Obama is enjoying the renewed attention that he is receiving despite having been sapped of much of his political legitimacy on November 4. “If you ask me, I say that’s a pretty good week,” Obama said of his trips to a variety of Asia-Pacific nations. “I intend to build on that momentum when I return home”
Obama will act on immigration, but he hasn’t done so yet. To do so is to ignite a political war in Washington. The next stage of that conflict is one in which the president will play a decidedly more peripheral role. For a final, fleeting moment, Obama is still the center of the universe.
Immigration is not the only pressing issue supposedly on the president’s mind. Similarly, the Beltway press corps is consumed with suspense over what actions Obama will take on a variety of other vexing matters.
Facing a revolt among members of his own party in the Senate, does Obama veto the Keystone Pipeline in the unlikely prospect that it is approved by both chambers of Congress? What of the Affordable Care Act, which is enduring some renewed scrutiny amid falling approval ratings and the scandalous comments of one of the law’s architects? The November 24 deadline for nuclear negotiations with Iran is fast approaching. Will Obama approve of a deal which leaves the Islamic Republic a nuclear threshold state? What of the president’s approach to Syria and Iraq, where military commanders are now flirting with the need to topple a regime and reintroduce ground forces respectively?
Amid all the clamor, it’s worth remembering that these issues didn’t spring up last night. They have been sources of supposed frustration for this White House for months or even years, in some cases. In fact, given that voters elected to diminish the president’s stature appreciably this month, it serves Obama well to encourage the breathless speculation about his coming actions by maintaining his present indolent course. The question the press should begin asking, one which they will likely come around to before the end of the year, is what will Obama’s successor do about these issues and more?
In one of its final moments of relevance, the ancient and dying Austro-Hungarian Empire, cursed with ambition that well outstripped its faculties, made the world hold its breath. 100 years ago last summer, the inheritors of the Habsburg legacy determined the fates of those millions whose lives would later be lost in the war over a perceived Serbian insult to the dignity of Vienna. But once Austro-Hungary declared war, their time in the sun was over. The eyes of the world shifted onto greater forces which merited the attention and would determine the course of coming events. That spent power in Central Europe’s dying gasp was to ignite a great war, but that was the last contribution to history this terminally declining power could muster.
How much authority did that hollowed out state derive from the attention it was granted in July of 1914? How much power is Obama enjoying today as a result of a media granting him undue influence because it cannot yet abide Republican voices filling the vacuum of power left in the wake of the midterm elections? Yes, an American president has enormous powers and Obama will use them at some point, but he is enjoying every minute of the attention he is receiving for doing absolutely nothing.