It’s Always Sunny in E.J.: WaPo‘s E. J. Dionne argues that Obama has to win big against the Republicans in order to get a sufficient mandate for governing in his second term:
Obama’s ability to govern in a second term thus depends not simply on his own triumph but also on the decisive defeat of those who have been obstructing him. If he wins but they win, is there much chance that the obstruction will stop?
Obama hopes that if he earns reelection by defending tax increases on the wealthy, the current structure of Medicare and investments in education and infrastructure, he’ll have a mandate for a sensible budget compromise. …
Yet given the current views of most Congressional Republicans, few of them are likely to accept any claim of a mandate and would eagerly blame a Romney defeat on Romney himself.
If Obama wants to do more than survive, he thus has to fight a bigger and broader campaign that targets not only Romney but also a GOP congressional apparatus that has moved the party far to the right …. [Emphasis added]
Oh wait. I’m sorry. That was written last month when it looked like Obama had some chance of winning big and defeating the entire “GOP congressional apparatus.” Now that he doesn’t, winning big turns out not to matter so much! In a fortuitous development, it seems that, on second thought, Obama can not only govern but pursue an ambitious second term agenda even if Republicans continue to control the House–at least he can on five big issues (immigration, energy, education, infrastructure and campaign finance). Here’s E.J. Dionne to explain it:
The question always asked is: Why should we think he’ll do it in a second term when he didn’t do it in the first? The answer is that if Obama is reelected, it will be in no small part because he overwhelms Romney among Latino voters who have stoutly rejected the Republican’s “self-deportation” ideas. It’s possible that Republicans will cooperate on immigration reform simply because they don’t want to keep losing elections by getting clobbered in Latino precincts. And Obama will know that he has an electoral debt to pay.
Republicans have been relentless in attacking the clean-energy projects Obama has financed. If Obama wins, the president will have reason to say that clean energy won, too, and push ahead. And in one of the best articles on what Obama might do in a second term, the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza observed in June that Obama’s campaign statements — to that point, at least — suggested he would like to take another shot at legislation to address climate change.
Obama speaks incessantly about upgrading the country’s infrastructure. He also stresses the urgency of retooling both our education system and the way we train people for well-paying jobs. One can imagine a comprehensive education, jobs and investment program being a high priority in a second Obama term. And you can bet he will join efforts to create a new campaign financing system to check the power billionaires and corporations exercise in the world after Citizens United.
Hmm. So which E.J. is right–E.J. I or E.J. II?
I think it depends on the issue. On energy, infrastructure, campaign finance, even E.J. II doesn’t seem to have convinced himself that a second Obama term would bring much action: Obama will “push” for clean energy, and “take another shot” at climate change. “One can imagine” an education, jobs and investment program “being a high priority”! Obama will “join efforts” to counter Citizens United. But will these “efforts,” even if they can be imagined, have a good chance to actually succeed? It’s fair to say that if they did E.J. II wouldn’t have to use such weaselly language.
On the budget, in contrast, some sort of Grand Bargain, or at least Not Pathetically Small Bargain, seems very possible, given the inclinations of both the President and Speaker Boehner last time around.
Which leaves immigration. Both E.J. II and Lizza seem to think a “comprehensive” bill with a big amnesty (beyond the sensible mini-DREAM amnesty plus enforcement deal outlined by Mark Krikorian) is a looming second term accomplishment–because Republicans will be chastened when Latinos give Democrats the winning margins. I’m not convinced, at least if the chastening is limited to the presidential contest–with Republicans maintaining their power in the House and increasing it in the Senate. How would it help the GOPs to give Obama a victory Dems will boast about on Spanish language radio for years?
More on this issue later. As Nov. 6 looms, I’m trying to work up my traditional bitchy, backhanded endorsement of the Democratic nominee–and it would complicate that task immensely if I thought Dionne and Lizza were right and Obama might actually achieve the “comprehensive immigration reform” he talks about. I think “comprehensive” reform–a simultaneous amnesty and enforcement effort–is a terrible idea. Further study is required. But I’ll be subconsciously rooting for E.J. I.