Slate's chief political correspondent, John Dickerson, makes an interesting argument on how this President can cement what has already been acknowledged as a "Presidency of Consequence."
The president who came into office speaking in lofty terms about bipartisanship and cooperation can only cement his legacy if he destroys the GOP. If he wants to transform American politics, he must go for the throat.Obama has at most about eighteen months before the lame-duck label drags hims down, Dickerson argues. Achieving bipartisan consensus on any issues of consequence is still, and always has been, a pipe dream. His alternative is now clear--if he wants to be remembered for anything beyond his past successes Obama must eradicate the GOP, and with their unwitting assistance at that. Acknowledging that it would be possible at this point for Obama to essentially rest on his laurels, Dickerson points out that there is no evidence he intends to do this:
[T]here's no sign he's content to ride out the second half of the game in the Barcalounger. He is approaching gun control, climate change, and immigration with wide and excited eyes. He's not going for caretaker.Dickerson suggests that Obama knows (at long last) that he will get nowhere attempting to reach consensus with the radicals in the Republican House and Senate. Whatever their reasons, be it fear of intraparty primarily challenges or genuine hatred for his Presidency, himself, or his achievements, Obama is at the point now where it simply doesn't matter for him to "reach out" to Republicans. He is running out of time, even as his second Inauguration looms.
Dickerson suggests that what is needed is a bastardization or "weaponization", as he terms it, of modern Presidential political theory as espoused by political scientist Stephen Skowronek. (The term "Third Way" derived from Skowronek's writings, not necessarily because he advocated it, but because he identified it as a specific Presidential type). Skowronek identifies what he terms as "reconstructive" Presidents who upend the existing Order, predominantly (he argues) due to their position vis a vis their predecessor. Hoover, for example, provided a foil for FDR in enacting his agenda, while Bush offers Obama the same opportunity. Dickerson has been reading Skowronek:
In order for a president to be transformational, the old order has to fall as the orthodoxies that kept it in power exhaust themselves. Obama's gambit in 2009 was to build a new post-partisan consensus. That didn't work, but by exploiting the weaknesses of today’s Republican Party, Obama has an opportunity to hasten the demise of the old order by increasing the political cost of having the GOP coalition defined by Second Amendment absolutists, climate science deniers, supporters of “self-deportation” and the pure no-tax wing.In light of the scope of Obama's agenda Dickerson takes him at his word that he remains ambitious and eager to establish his Presidency in history--if he wants to do that, though, Dickerson argues Obama's only option is to "pulverize" the GOP by continually placing them in a position where their objections repel the rest of the country as voices of extremism:
Whether he succeeds in passing legislation or not, given his ambitions, his goal should be to delegitimize his opponents. Through a series of clarifying fights over controversial issues, he can force Republicans to either side with their coalition's most extreme elements or cause a rift in the party that will leave it, at least temporarily, in disarray.We are already seeing this in the debate about gun control, with Republican "stars" such as Rand Paul feeling compelled to make asses of themselves by adhering to unpopular positions in order to shore up their own credibility. This plays into Dickerson's suggested approach. And it still permits more moderate Republicans to partner with the President and actually achieve some legislative goals. The point being that he would get no further with this GOP if he continued to hope for "bipartisan" solutions: he has nothing now to lose.
Obama needs two things from the GOP: overreaction and charismatic dissenters. They’re not going to give this to him willingly, of course, but mounting pressures in the party and the personal ambitions of individual players may offer it to him anyway.The GOP has no shortage of "charismatic dissenters." It seems like everyone in the their House majority is now competing for approval and attention by some marginal, rabid "base" they feel they owe their existence to. Dickerson notes that having GOP luminaries such as Chris Christie castigating his fellow Republicans also serves Obama well. He points out that the GOP's self-immolation on women's issues in 2011 prefigured this approach. And he believes Obama may actually be implementing this strategy already, with the keen emphasis on the politically charged gun issue and the transformation of OFA into an entity geared towards exerting political pressure. As to OFA,
[I]t will have his legacy and agenda in mind—and it won’t be affiliated with the Democratic National Committee, so it will be able to accept essentially unlimited donations. The president tried to use his political arm this way after the 2008 election, but he was constrained by re-election and his early promises of bipartisanship. No more. Those days are done.It's about time.