President Barack Obama has made it clear in his just-released weekly radio/internet address that he intends assertively battle special interests and lobbyists who seek to derail his $3.6 trillion budget plan. And it’s clear Obama intends to go to the mat in what is shaping up to be an epic battle.
Obama’s core quote that will be on TV, discussed (and screamed about) on talk radio, on weblogs and in all news reports will be this one:
I know these steps won’t sit well with the special interests and lobbyists who are invested in the old way of doing business, and I know they’re gearing up for a fight as we speak. My message to them is this: So am I.
In his address, Obama details some of the specific interests that he fully expects will be battling him. Among his other key points: (1)He’s fulfilling the promises he made when he campaigned and these were the things people voted for. (2) He wasn’t sent to the White House to make small changes. Another key quote:
The system we have now might work for the powerful and well-connected interests that have run Washington for far too long, but I don’t. I work for the American people.
The outlook: Expect a battle that will make the stimulus battle look like patty cake. This is essentially boiling down to a historic struggle over undoing the Reagan Revolution and the assumptions underlying it and reinstating and building upon the New Deal-Great Frontier-Great Society (with a 21st century price tag)concept of government as a competent helpful friend versus an incompetent, overspending burden.
Here’s Obama’s week address via you Tube in full:
You can read the full text of his weekly address here.
What is the context of this? Andrew Sullivan has a perceptive take on it: what we’re seeing is Obama as the subtle, master strategist who is emerging as the anti-Rove — the mirror image of GOP political maven and present Fox News contributor Karl Rove in the way he does business and achieves political goals. It’s worth looking at Sullivan’s analysis and discussing it in some detail here.
First, Sullivan sees Obama as using different political skills than Washington has come to know, expect and praise:
I think of him in some ways as the Un-Rove. Karl Rove mastered the art of petty and nasty political tactics in the South of the post-Reagan era. And he never had a solid grip on conservatism as a political philosophy or of political strategy. And so Rove today endures as the architect of the biggest and deepest political implosion since the Democrats in the 1970s. It was all tactics, no strategy; all politics, no governance. He remains the worst single political strategist of modern times.
And, indeed, Rove was called a political whiz by many (including me) in their new and old media columns and analyses because he was winning elections.
But it became clear the more the Bush administration went on that except for specific, often highly ideological stands on key issues that input from independents, moderates, centrists and Democrats who didn’t agree with them, there didn’t seem any grand, cohesive plan except pushing the buttons to keep power and govern and running one of the most ideological governments the U.S. has seen (at first praised by conservatives until the wheels started coming off with Katrina, the ports, etc). Honestly: who would have expected in 1960 when JFK was talking about space exploration that one day we’d see an american administration seemingly looking down on science?
Bush used the 911 crisis to impose some of his agenda — just as Obama is now using the economic crisis now to impose some of his. Back to Sullivan again:
Now look at how Obama has framed the debate since the election. Every single symbolic act has been inclusive and sober. From that speech in Grant Park to the eschewal of euphoria on Inauguration Day; from the George Will dinner invite to the Rick Warren invocation; from meeting the House Republicans on the Hill to convening a fiscal responsibility summit; from telegraphing to all of us Obamacons that he wasn’t a fiscal lunatic to … unveiling the most expansive, liberal, big government reversal of Reagan any traditional Democrat would die for.
Smart, isn’t he? He won the stimulus debate long before the Republicans realized it (they were busy doing tap-dances of victory on talk radio, while he was building a new coalition without them). And now, after presenting such a centrist, bi-partisan, moderate and personally trustworthy front, he gets to unveil a radical long-term agenda that really will soak the very rich and invest in the poor. Given the crisis, he has seized this moment for more radicalism than might have seemed possible only a couple of months ago.
Sullivan shares my view totally: he notes that if this works, Obama will be seen as more of an FDR, a transformational President, and if it flops the country will bankrupt and it’ll be bye-bye Obama after his term ends. He also notes that Obama is taking a calculated risk on the economy just as Bush did on Iraq.
Another side issue in this: if Obama succeeds he will shift the definition of the American center and the conventional wisdom about it. The center has shifted left and right at times in American history. This could be another moment. And for parties to win in the long term, they will need to capture some of the existing center whether the center left or center right is more dominant.
The questions in coming weeks will be many. Will Obama mobilize his network of supporters? Use not just traditional “bully pulpits” of the Presidency 21st century ones such as the You Tube address he has used to leapfrog what was a perfunctory radio address covered by the news onto countless computer screens throughout the world? Will he continue to convince his present coalition that gives him the poll numbers that this needs to be done? Or will he see a sharp drop in independent voter and non-talk-show Republican suppport?
Prediction: if he gets a chunk of what he wants and there is positive movement in the economy, the Republicans could be out in the wilderness so far that they won’t be able to get Rush Limbaugh’s signal on their radios and a guy nicknamed “Moe” clutching a stone tablet won’t be able to find them. (There is some parallel here: twice Republicans listened to Bushes — and both times they wound up in wandering the political desert.)
And if Obama belly flops, and takes the whole country with him in his wake?
Then Bobby Jindall will be working weekends updating his pitch and will fire the elementary school kids who’ve been coaching him on his speech delivery and Sarah Palin will be out buying a new wardrobe as they anticipate increased odds — and virtual certainty — that they or another GOPer will be moving into the White House.