Throughout American history it has been a normal phenomenon for presidents to have a tougher time with accomplishing their 2nd term agenda than they did their first go-around. Following the previous month of controversy, the Obama administration is looking like that streak will hold true. Controversy after controversy has left the White House with their wheels spinning, and they don’t seem to be gaining traction anytime soon. Whether it is the secret subpoenas of Associated Press journalists, the questions about what really happened in the White House’s response to Benghazi, the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative groups (which today seems like old news), and now the NSA fiasco, Obama cannot regain control of the narrative that has been playing through the media over the past month.
Upon his reelection, Barack Obama set out an ambitious second-term agenda that seemed to make his liberal base ecstatic. He mentioned climate change for the first time since his first campaign in 2008, he was going to tackle gun control legislation on the heels of the Newtown, Connecticut shootings, and he was going to tackle comprehensive immigration reform that would allow for the 11 million illegal aliens currently in the country to earn a path to citizenship. President Obama made a calculation that he had gained a significant amount of political capital in his re-elect to set out an ambitious agenda, and he was determined he was going to spend that capital, FAST.
Fast-forward 6 months to today. The Democrats first run at gun control failed in the United States Senate, and seems to have floundered from public view with little hope of reappearing on the national political stage anytime soon. Climate change has rarely been mentioned since Obama’s 2nd inauguration speech. Immigration is the one issue that we are currently at a critical point to see where it goes. As of this writing, the momentum behind the “Gang of Eight” immigration bill seems to be stalled. Republicans are weary of moving forward without stronger border security protections, and the Democrats believe that the Republicans are simply hiding behind that issue because they don’t really want immigration reform to pass. We will see over the coming weeks what happens with the immigration bill, but the point remains the same: President Obama’s three ambitious items of his 2nd term agenda are stalled, at best. Barack Obama wanted to use his political capital to pass major pieces of legislation, but instead he has had to use it to attempt to control the scandals that have besieged his administration.
I think that another example to see how Barack’s agenda and personal power have become diluted is through how Congress has acted in his 2nd term. Let me explain. In President Obama’s first term, he was the lead on many, if not all, of the legislative issues that were tackled by his administration. Who was the lead person in trying to show support of the stimulus package? President Obama. He was on Capitol Hill all the time trying to meet with members of Congress and gather support on the Hill. Who was the lead salesman when it came to health care reform? President Obama. Again, he was the one on the hill working with the legislators to try and get the bill through Congress. Barack was out in front of the stories; he was out in the public eye pushing for these reforms. Today, it is a vastly different story. In the gun control debate, President Obama made a public campaign following Newtown, but he largely stayed away from Capitol Hill. There was a political calculation their from his own party that said the legislation had a better chance of success if President Obama stayed away. The gun control legislation was not pushed as President Obama’s legislation, but rather it was the Manchin-Toomey amendment that got all the play. The same thing is at play with the immigration debate. For weeks, the debate about immigration reform has circled Washington, but President Obama made no public push for the measure. In this example it wasn’t pushed in the media as Obama’s immigration reform, but rather the “Gang of Eight” bill. The political capital has been spent and Congressional Democrats realize that they have a better chance of passing legislation if President Obama is not in the picture.
Finally, if President Obama wants to right his ship and get going on any of the major pieces of his second term agenda then he better act fast. It is hard to fathom that it is already time to start thinking about campaigns again, but November 4, 2014 will be here before you know it, and following the midterm elections, Barack Obama will be a lame-duck president. In the last two years of a presidency, rarely anything major ever gets accomplished. Time to act is starting to run short, and the Obama administration can’t seem to gain traction anywhere near fast enough.
My prediction is that you will start to see people jump ship from the Obama administration. They have no incentive to stay. The 2nd term agenda appears to be shot, and, unless something changes and changes fast, there is no way to fix it. Many within the administration have two options: stay and be a part of a lame-duck White House, or go to the private sector while the resume item of “White House” is still hot. These people will never have a better resume than now, and they will find a plush private sector job based on their previous job experience alone. They can spend a few years in that job and recharge before they can choose to hop back in with the next Democratic hopeful and try to do the whole thing over again. The incentive to stay is much less. This administration is floundering and they risk missing the next Democratic hopeful if they stay on this sinking ship too long.