Politics is weird stuff. Here we are being sequestrated (which may be something like being castrated), the president doesn’t actually sit down with the “opposition” until the 12th hour; the Republicans are planning the next stand-off rather than working on the present one; both bases are tickled pinko their guys “held the line,” and the rest of us are wondering if the right to vote isn’t about as important as a phone-in to American Idol.
Now I’m usually a supporter of our president, but recently he stood there and got Star Wars confused with Star Trek, and there are some things you just cannot forgive! I mean, Jesus H. What’s-his-name, interns aren’t allowed to provide “personal services” since Clinton screwed that up, so put them to work researching your metaphors! And while they are at it, maybe you could task them with solving this whole budget fiasco as well because the guys you are paying to help you solve it aren’t accomplishing diddly squat.
According to those who get paid to look into such things, there are major differences between a president’s first and second terms. When a new president comes into office, he has to be brought up to speed. There are things that only a president is supposed to know, like how to access that secret drawer in the oval office desk. That, of course, brings up the question of who it is that is going to get the only person who is supposed to know “up to speed,” but I have my little fantasy scenarios:
Super-Secret-Organization Guy: Mr. President, there are a few things you have to know.
Mr. President: Shoot… metaphorically speaking, of course.
Super-Secret-Organization Guy: Well, you are aware of the base known as Area 51, right?
Mr. President: Sure, the Groom Lake site that is supposed to house all that Jedi mind meld stuff?
Super-Secret-Organization Guy: Umm… exactly.
Mr. President: It’s all an urban legend, right?
Super-Secret-Organization Guy: Actually, sir, it’s all true.
Mr. President: Really? When can I meet the Wookie?
Super-Secret-Organization Guy: I am sorry, Mr. President, no Wookies.
Mr. President: Well, then can we at least thaw William Shatner long enough for a state dinner?
Once Super-Secret-Organization Guy leaves, a new president has something like 53.76 hours to make good on his campaign promises and tend to the country’s needs before his staff begin to pester him about the really important stuff he has to do like start campaigning for his party’s senators and congress people at the mid-term elections and raising money for his own re-election campaign two years after that.
Now, I have to admit that Obama got a good deal done in that phase of his first term. It was all small, inconsequential stuff, of course, like ending a war in Iraq, saving the American auto industry, ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” finally eliminating Osama Bin Laden, getting the Affordable Care Act passed after 100 years of failure to reform our health care system in a major way, reversing the sharp decline in the image of America abroad, credit card reform, creating a stimulus plan to keep America from sliding from recession into depression… little stuff.
And he did have a highly cooperative Republican House of Representatives behind him who kept him on his toes by flatly refusing to even consider anything even remotely associated with his name, yelling things like “You lie!” at State of the Union speeches, threatening impeachment over gun control, and using terms of endearment like “fascist” and “nazi” whenever he proposed anything that might help the middle class more than the 1%.
He also had a highly functional Senate where the minority managed to use a decades-old senate rule to turn every vote into one that required a 60 vote majority just to get something to the floor.
With all this going for him, it’s a mystery why Obama didn’t get even more major sorts of things done during his first term.
Now, if a president gets elected to a second term (and only 17 have), the picture changes somewhat. Super-Secret-Organization Guy is no longer needed because Mr. President has already found the secret drawer and seen the map on the back of the Declaration of Independence. He’s had his state dinner with William Shatner‘s cold, stiff body propped up in some corner of the room, and he has been able to discuss finding the treasure with Nick Cage. So he now has 64.38 hours to make good on his campaign promises and tend to the country’s needs before his staff starts pestering him to get into a bus and make speeches for his party’s midterm election prospects.
But he doesn’t have to raise money for his own re-election campaign this time around, so he gains another 17.36 hours before he is declared a lame-duck president at the midterms. Once that happens, his effectiveness is reduced considerably, according to those who get paid to look at such things, since the Republican congress feels they have nothing to lose by opposing whatever he proposes (for yet another two years) in the hopes that after the next election there will be a Republican president who will restore the by-God rightful state of affairs to the White House.
But there’s another aspect to being a second term president that the aforementioned paid analysts like to point out. Second term presidents have to consider their “place in history.” Apparently it isn’t enough to be America’s first black president who got universal health care passed and hauled our butts out of the worst recession since the “Great Depression,” reduced the al-Qaeda organization which attacked American soil to a splintered, headless shadow of its former self, and put the auto industry back on its feet. Obama will need to do something to assure that he has a few pages in the history books.
So, by most estimates, Obama has until about July of 2014 to get the debt ceiling and budget issues settled, make progress on his agenda of immigration reform, gun control reform, global warming initiatives, and to ensure his place in history before everyone decides he’s a has-been and he has to spend all his time working on his presidential library.
This timeline assumes that the makeup of the house and senate will remain the same after the 2014 midterms. That’s a tall order. Analysts like to point out that a sitting president’s party almost always loses seats in congress during a midterm. Some Democrats would like to think that they have a chance of reversing that trend this time, but with all the REDMAPing, proposed Electoral College changes, and Republican shenanigan’s to come, that’s going to be tough.
In the Senate there will be 35 seats up for election, all of them in Republican-leaning states. Of those, 21 are Democratic held seats currently. In order to provide Obama with a functional majority that can provide the 60 votes Republicans seem to be demanding these days to bring a bill to the floor, Democrats will have to successfully defend all 21 currently held seats and pick up at least 6 more.
In the House they would have to pick up 17 seats against the odds created by redistricting in many states.
There are some analysts who hold a glimmer of hope that this could actually happen. They have formulas that relate general poll results and other information to chances of congressional race wins. But that’s a long shot at best. Democrats would need to be up something like 9 points over Republicans in general polls. If you’re a Democrat, you’d better start pounding on doors now.
But giving Obama more time to complete his agenda depends in large measure on the success of the midterm effort.
As a result, Obama has promised to spend additional time campaigning for Democratic candidates in the 2014 elections. I guess he’ll take the time away from planning his presidential library.
On the other hand, if the Democrats actually could reverse the trend and get a Democratic congress, that would change things in no small way. The presidential agenda might then have a chance to bear fruit in the last two years of the Obama presidency.
Unless, of course, he continues to offend his nerd base. If he makes a comment about how the White House these days feels like Serenity when the replicants were attacking, the Democranerds will melt down. Given everything else on his plate right now, I don’t think Obama cares.
Your Humble Servant,
The Willowbrook Curmudgeon