If you are wont to wander around in perpetually blissful and unconcerned state of mind, or perhaps overindulging on your medication you just might be optimistic about President Obama’s second term. If you remember the last four years vividly then may harbor a different outlook. In spite of Obama’s inspiring and progressive rhetoric from the stump, Speaker Boehner appears to remain grounded in his belief that the President, ‘knows he can’t do any of that’. Undoubtedly, the President has political capital from his recent victory, some peace of mind from knowing that he will never have to run for office again and possibly a little momentum from the watered down win over the fiscal cliff battle with Congress but it remains to be seen if he will manage to achieve any meaningful progress on gun control and immigration reform while fighting to maintain investments in infrastructure and entitlements while also winding down another war and trimming the defense budget in the face of another hostile and unpredictable House.
The President is certainly making a lot of noise. Twin national press conferences on immigration reform and gun violence complete with hash tags and all the other modern fanfare bookending his second inaugural which laid out yet more of his progressive agenda including same-sex marriage equality. He seems to have managed to convince most people that the fiscal cliff showdown was a win for Democrats and delaying the debt ceiling fiasco until at least May allows him more flexibility with his political capital. That being said, he still faces an incredibly hostile Congress with respect to his platform and he, evidently, has yet to develop a strategy to deal with the primary obstacle preventing him from achieving everything else he’s talking about doing. This author remains skeptical that Obama will be able to woo enough moderate Republicans in the House for substantive immigration reform or, for that matter, enough Blue Dog Democrats in the Senate for any kind of consequential gun control legislation. It’s reminiscent of January 2009 when the prospects for significant financial reform were so hopeful, the public health care option had yet to be strangled and, oh yes, our insanely bureaucratic and inhibiting immigration was finally going to be taken care of.
This is not to say that attempts at solving these problems are misguided or quixotic. Undoubtedly, our bloated immigration system stifles the economy by forcing undocumented migrants to work outside the system, by effectively evicting some of the brightest PhD’s from our universities due to expired visas and on and on. The countless gun tragedies in this country need not be reviewed here either. Solving these complex problems is not meant to be simple nor is our system of government designed for quick and decisive action. Issues are meant to be discussed, facts presented, arguments heard and made available to the public so that we may develop our own opinions and help inform our legislators what the popular opinion is. When the NRA posits that any gun control legislation is necessarily unconstitutional and therefore any discussion of the topic is a non-starter, we have bid adieu to the sphere of intelligent public debate. If the NRA believed in the merits of its argument it ought to welcome a vigorous debate. Moreover, when a group, any group, justifies their refusal to engage in the deliberative process our founders designed by misrepresenting and oversimplifying a specificity, rather than reaching to fully understand and live up to their overall ideas and principles of government, well, we cheapen everything they stood for and undermine our own importance to future generations.
Congressional Republicans have assumed a position where debating ideas derived from a common set of facts is no longer respectable policymaking. Apparently, pledging allegiance to the Tea Party is more important than the actual pledge of allegiance because working with other elected officials to reach a compromise and enact legislation is punishable by retirement in a Republican Primary. It’s not that I think President Obama isn’t actually a liberal or that he doesn’t actually believe the things ideas he preaches on the stump. Truthfully, I believe he’s more liberal than he lets on but he’s also pragmatic and he’s had to adjust his expectations about what’s achievable in this political climate. Obama is also keenly aware that this aversion to compromise isn’t exclusive to gun control and the tea party is still a potent and vibrant force in American politics capable of derailing his agenda in the House.
Ultimately though, I am hopeful that we will see progress this year on immigration reform though because, well, it’s now a political necessity for Republicans. Reform has long been popular with many border state Republicans, including leaders of the party like George W. Bush and John McCain (although McCain decided he wouldn’t support an Obama immigration policy for reasons known only to the Senator) but, for reasons that are beyond the scope of this article to explain, there was never the right Congressional coalition to pass a bill. The last election revealed just how close to national obscurity the Republicans actually are and, like President Obama, their more pragmatic instincts are kicking in. It is particularly encouraging to see Senator McCain back on board and also to see the young Presidential hopeful Senator Rubio engaging on an issue of national consequence. I’d expect to see Obama go 1-1 on his first two legislative issues which I reckon will bring up to the debt ceiling, at which point the President will be back at the most dangerous negotiating table in the world, heckling over the full-faith-and-credit of the United States of America.