As President Obama pitches his plans to the middle class, it occurs to me that he might be one of the most savvy political operators we’ve encountered in a long time. What is more, his long-term significance might be to have presided over a dramatic paradigm shift regarding how the voters view political parties.
Prior to the killing of Osama bin Laden, the Republican Party had, for decades, enjoyed an advantage on the national security and foreign policy front. For decades, Democrats wore the label of weak on defense like an Albatross around the collective necks of their candidates. That seems to have ended.
Obama mitigated — and possibly even reversed — the Republican advantage. And if Democrats are able to sustain it post-Obama, one could argue that Obama truly changed the trajectory of politics — in a way that even transcends the mere passage of his sweeping health care legislation.
If foreign policy wasn’t enough, President Obama might now be attempting to redefine the Democratic Party as the party of middle class tax cuts.
At least, that’s what some conservatives predict. As conservative talk show host Michael Medved warns,
Once off the fiscal cliff,Dems will push instantly to restore Bush rates for middle class ONLY, claiming new status as the tax-cutting party.
— Michael Medved (@MedvedSHOW) November 27, 2012
It would be truly ironic if adherence to Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge allowed Democrats to pull off such a flanking maneuver. Norquist, after all, has always argued that it is important for the GOP to won the tax cut “brand.”
As CP Politics noted,
The “pledge,” according to Norquist, is a type of “quality control” to protect the Republican brand. Coke maintains quality control, Norquist explains, because if someone were to find a rat head in their Coke, it would destroy the brand and few would buy their product.
Similarly, “Republicans who vote for a tax increase are rat heads in a Coke bottle. They damage the brand for everyone else.”
Barack Obama has already helped destroy brand loyalty for the Republican Party’s foreign policy. Is he now attempting to destroy the Republican brand as the party of tax cuts?
And will Republicans play into his hands, or find a way to outflank him?
(If you’re taking bets here, the smart money is on Obama.)
This is precisely why Obama may go down in history as a truly transformational figure. Bill Clinton was able to co-opt Republican ideas and claim credit, but he had to move to the center to do so. Clinton beat Republicans at their own game — but it was still their game.
If Barack Obama can please his liberal base and simultaneously out-conservative Republicans (in the public’s mind, at least), that would be one impressive act of prestidigitation, indeed.