A lot of talk over the past couple of weeks about what President Obama can or cant do or should or shouldnt dogiven the mainly obstructionist agenda of the opposition party (there was this from Maureen Dowd, which sort of kicked things off, and there was this and this from Charles P. Pierce, who is, well, Charles P. Pierce).Now, on the Commonweal homepage, two new pieces that take a more considered approach to the question of how the president might proceed for the rest of his term. First, from Great Exhortations, James T. Kloppenberg:
It has been particularly fascinating to watch the seesawing of opinion on Obama in the past year. Often it seems that every day presents a new avalanche of commentary on the presidents performance, much of it devoted to sleuthing out backroom maneuvering in an attempt to explain what is happening. And yet perhaps because the cynicism that dominates contemporary political discourse militates against taking any politicians words at face value, surprisingly little analysis is devoted to what the president actually says in his principal public addresses. Americans are so busy figuring out Obama, they have stopped hearing him.
In American history, as in the Catholic tradition, the individual freedom prized by contemporary conservatives and liberals alike has always been bounded by the duties that democratic citizens owe one another. Only if the president insists that liberty still obligates every individualfrom the wealthiest to the poorest, from opponents of fracking to hunters paying dues to the NRAto shoulder the burdens we share in common, and only if he is able to translate that pledge into legislation, will his second term nudge the nation toward fulfilling its ideals. Government in a modern civilization, FDR reminded the nation in 1936, has certain inescapable obligations to its citizens, including protection of the family and the home and the establishment of a democracy of opportunity. Recent events have shown that the insecurity FDR targeted has returned to the United Statesand not only to our vulnerable populations, clustered in cities, but to suburban cinemas and schools and the impoverished populations of Americas reddest states. Inequality has so constricted opportunity in the United States that citizens in most European nations now enjoy not only greater safety but also greater economic and social mobility than do Americans. The dramatic decision of Switzerland, hardly a hotbed of socialism, to adopt the Minder Initiative limiting executive compensation indicates the distance separating European from American social democracy.
The president in his first term often talked about his easy working relationship with his young chief speech writer, Jon Favreau, a Jesuit-trained political activist committed to Catholic conceptions of bounded liberty, community, and justice. Now that Favreau has left the White House, we shall see whether the presidents references to these themes persist. In a moving passage in Dreams from My Father, Obama recalls telling the devout Catholics with whom he worked as a community organizer in Chicago that his motives were not much different from theirs, a revelation that may help explain why he and Favreau worked together so seamlessly for so long. But the president is now at a crossroads. Will he continue fighting against the Republican creed of individualism, confronting plutocracy with the principles of democracy?
Read the whole piece here.Then, E. J. Dionne Jr. encourages Obama to ditch the cool and clinical analysis and get back to what got him here:
When President Obama was asked by Jonathan Karl of ABC News at his Tuesday news conference whether he still had "the juice" to get his agenda through Congress, I wish he had replied, "Lighten up. This is the country where hope lives."[Obama] really is dealing with a novel situation. The GOP has moved far to the right. The Senate no longer operates on the basis of majority rule. The strong presidents with whom Obama is often compared, Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan, did not face these obstacles. In his heyday, LBJ had huge Democratic congressional majorities. The Gipper could always count on winning votes from conservative Southern Democrats who had joined Republicans regularly for many years before he took office. Obama has every right to be frustrated: When Republicans obstruct, he takes the blame.But getting an "A" for analysis is not the goal here. In the areas he does control, Obama has to talk less about the hurdles he faces and more forcefully about what he's doing to get over them.