After November: GOP Will Compromise But Liberals May Defeat Obama by Gregory Hilton

At 11 am tomorrow President Obama will announce the departure of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. Emanuel described the “professional left” as “retards,” and denounced their unwillingness to compromise on issues such as health care reform and global warming. The departure press conference is being held in the East Room to provide maximum exposure for Emanuel’s campaign for Mayor of Chicago. The President will name a new Chief of Staff and is also seeing the departure of his top political aide (David Axelrod) and three of the four members of his economic team.
The falling popularity and weakness of the President’s legislative agenda has been apparent for a long time. Nevertheless, there has been no course correction. Nothing happened in 2009 when Democrats lost governorships in Virginia and New Jersey, as well as Ted Kennedy’s Massachusetts Senate seat in January 2010.
The Bay State is the Democratic Party’s Vatican City, but today for the first time, the GOP gubernatorial candidate has pulled into the lead in internal polls. For the past two decades Ohio has been the nation’s top battleground state. In a current hypothetical match-up, George W. Bush defeats Obama in the Buckeye State by a 50% to 42% margin.
Another milestone could be the report of Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. The 18 member bipartisan Commission could release its recommendations as early as December 2nd, and many are hoping they will address entitlement spending. This could be a major theme in the President’s 2011 State of the Union Address. A focus on deficit reduction and fiscal responsibility would not only be popular, but it is certain to be the major demand of the new 112th Congress. Congress will no longer approve any big spending initiatives.
The President’s political team ran an amazing campaign in 2008, and they are well aware of public sentiments. They have surely told him that he spent more money on new programs in his first nine months than Bill Clinton did in eight years. The result was a 35% drop in the President’s popularity among independent voters, and a huge boost for the GOP. Obama has never made a gesture similar to Bill Clinton’s 1995 speech when he received a standing ovation by declaring “The era of big government is over.”
Bill Clinton was successful in moving rapidly to the right after the GOP captured the House and Senate in the 1994 midterm elections. Clinton jettisoned all of his political advisers and instead relied on Dick Morris who strongly urged him to govern as a moderate. The results were spectacular for Clinton who signed initiatives contained in the GOP’s Contract with America, and was easily re-elected in 1996. Will Obama be able to adopt the same tactics?
Near the end of his second year Obama has the highest disapproval rating of any President since modern polling began, and the numbers have been consistent for a year. The public is demanding deficit reduction and it will be difficult for the President to ignore these pleas. It will not be easy for Democratic lawmakers to sell themselves as deeply concerned about the deficit after voting for the stimulus, the bailouts, the health care legislation, the Obama budget and an expensive plan to address global warming. The Democrats are already on record as supporting four enormous new government programs. Defense reductions would be popular with the Democratic Party base, but not with the electorate. Jimmy Carter demonstrated that in 1978 and 1980.
The best way for the President to demonstrate he is serious about restoring economic growth is to achieve meaningful budget and deficit reductions. The most obvious approach is to scale back entitlement programs. Several previous presidents, including George W. Bush, tried and met with monumental failure. Obama would be demonstrating political courage by tackling this problem, but his own party will try to stop him. This was demonstrated today when 105 Democratic congressmen signed a petition asking the President to reject all Social Security reforms.
“Protecting Social Security” was a very popular issue for Democrats in 2006. The liberal wing of the party wants the White House to reject all reform proposals. The are telling the Democratic members of Obama’s deficit reduction commission not to touch Social Security. The liberal activists completely reject raising the retirement age or means-testing benefits. The 105 lawmakers who signed todays’ petition are all solid allies of House Speaker Pelosi.
There are many Democrats who recognize political reality and the need for reform. These Democrats are primarily associated with Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (MD), but they are expected to account for a large share of losses in November. Hoyer and Vice President Biden both support the means testing of benefits, which has long been a goal of the GOP leadership. If Obama does not move significantly forward on deficit and budget reductions, he will be giving the GOP the major issue to challenge his 2012 re-election.

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