For the last nine days, I have wracked my brains in search of a silver lining, and I have to confess that I do not see any. Barack Obama may have won a squeaker on the 6th of November, but what he eked out was nonetheless a victory -- which means that Obamacare and Dodd-Frank will be implemented, and which makes it very likely that he will be able to reshape the Supreme Court to his liking. That we lost ground in the Senate on the same day merely adds to my dismay, and I regret to have to report that we were outvoted in the elections to the House of Representatives as well. If the Republicans retain control, it is because of majority minority districting and because of gerrymandering in states where the Republicans controlled the legislatures.
There may, however, be this as a consolation. Barack Obama is not likely to have a pleasant second term. Few second-term Presidents do, and he is especially ill-placed. Nearly all Presidents who have run for reelection and actually managed to win have garnered a greater margin of the votes the second time than when they first ran. Like Woodrow Wilson, however, Barack Obama saw his margin decline -- and decline dramatically. Had Mitt Romney had a better ground operation, had he merely secured as many votes as had John McCain, the race would have been exceedingly close, and Romney might have eked out a victory in the electoral college. What happened on the 6th of November was that the voters chose between two individuals and selected the one they disliked the least. This leaves the President exceedingly vulnerable should he misstep.
And, of course, he has done just that. He ran a viciously negative campaign against a thoroughly decent man, and he did everything that he could to divide the nation bitterly along racial, ethnic, and sexual lines. It worked in the end, but it has left a bad taste in many mouths, and payback is in the offing.
Even more to the point, as Stanley Kurtz explained in an important blogpost entitled Get Ready for Obama’s First Term, “in order to secure re-election,” Obama “backloaded nearly all of his most transformative and controversial changes into a second term. Obama’s next term will actually put into effect health-care reform, Dodd-Frank, and a host of other highly controversial policies that are already surging through the pipeline yet still barely known to the public.”
While reelection may bring sullen public acceptance when Obama’s most controversial policies actually take effect, the reverse is equally possible. Once people actually begin to experience de facto health-care rationing, for example, they might get even angrier than they were in 2009–2010, when rationing was only a prospect. The same principle applies to a host of other issues (cap-and-trade via regulation, financial regulations, comprehensive immigration reform, national school curricula, urban-suburban policy). And this time, the public could be angered not only by the policies, but by growing recognition that actual enactment of Obama’s agenda was delayed for political purposes.
You could argue, Kurtz concedes, that “a barely-reelected president would be smart to pull in his horns and govern from the middle.” But Kurtz doubts that the President will do so, and he is surely right:
[T]hat’s not who Barack Obama is, and it’s certainly not the premise upon which he ran his campaign. Obama took the intentionally risky path of alienating half the country with an in-your-face negative campaign because he believed that demographics now allow him to cobble together a leftist majority in support of transformative change. Whether that demographic vision is accurate or not, Obama and his advisers believe that it is, and so will govern with relative disregard for opposition, however vocal.
The reelection of a Republican House of Representatives might also seem to have a moderating impact on the president, and to a limited degree it does. Yet Obama has cast aside conventional restraints on executive power with his pre-election orders on welfare reform and immigration. He will thus interpret reelection as a license to rule by executive order — well beyond the traditional limits on executive power. In the absence of intense populist pressure on a Congress facing another tea-party electoral wave in 2014, it will be impossible to prevent Obama from abusing his executive authority.
Even the conventional post-election honeymoon period may be short-lived. A huge controversy over the fiscal cliff looms in the lame-duck session of Congress. Obama has predicted that in the wake of his reelection, the Republican “fever” will break. Given the stakes, his conduct of this campaign, and Obama’s evident transformative intentions, a bitter showdown is more probable.
The long and short of it is that President Obama has won reelection, but in a way likely to propel national polarization well beyond its current level. By delaying his most controversial policy changes to a second term, laying the basis for (arguably unconstitutional) rule by executive order, and running a negative campaign designed to realign the electorate leftward, Obama has laid the foundation for a high-conflict future. What’s more, he knows it, and he’s ready for it. Obama is willing to pay the price of national division for the sake of making the transformative changes he seeks. So a massive increase in polarization is exactly what we’re likely to get.
Think about it. A host of seniors are about to be thrown out of Medicare Advantage. Innumerable Americans will soon, contrary to Barack Obama’s solemn promises, lose their health insurance, and they will have to turn to the healthcare exchanges. To this we can add that another recession is on the horizon, that taxes will go up, and that the deficit will continue to balloon.
There is, of course more. Barack Obama is given to lying, and he can rely on the likes of Candy Crowley to cover for him. You can fool the American people, and Barack Obama did just that. But you cannot fool them indefinitely. Sooner or later the chickens come home to roost, and those who have been fooled get angry. Obama’s troubles may be about to begin, as Barack's Benghazi Bungle gets exposed.
In the course of the campaign, when Al Waeda and its associates assassinated the American ambassador to Libya, Barack Obama and his minions -- including his ambassador to the United Nations, his Secretary of State, and his CIA director – conspired to misrepresent to the American people what had taken place. What happened in Benghazi was a demonstration that got out of hand, they told us. It was all the fault of a wicked Copt who made an offensive film, and we are going to make him regret it. So they told us.
Thanks to leaks from the CIA -- which the administration had tagged to take the fall for the disinformation peddled by the President and his subordinates -- we learned that, within hours of the disaster in Benghazi, the White House had been told that the assault was a terrorist act, and it had been informed as to the name of the local militia responsible for our ambassador's murder. In the face of these leaks, the flacks who pass themselves off as reporters working for the mainstream press successfully ran interference for the President prior to the election, deep-sixing embarrassing information and directing the attention of the public elsewhere. But they can now no longer do so -- for there is very little other news to report; Barack Obama wants to make UN Ambassador Susan Rice Secretary of State: and this morning, in his testimony to Congress, David Petraeus spilled the beans.
On the eve of Ambassador Rice’s appearance on the Sunday morning talk shows on 12 September, the CIA sent the White House a set of talking points that included the truth about the role played by the terrorists in the catastrophe in Benghazi. Someone in the White House then edited these talking points in such a fashion as to eliminate this awkward fact, and Susan Rice vigorously peddled the party line.
There are only two possibilities. Either Rice lied or the White House lied to her. If the former is the case, she has blotted her copybook. If the latter is the case, she is damaged goods. No one wants a Secretary of State who does not have the confidence of the President.
It is, of course, possible that Barack Obama will have the good sense to dodge this bullet and sacrifice Susan Rice, who has outlived her usefulness. It is possible that he will nominate some inoffensive Democrat in her place. But the man is so full of himself that I doubt that he will back off. We are already hearing that to criticize the woman he singled out as the administration’s designated liar is to be a racist and a sexist. I suspect that we will hear more of this nonsense down the road.
If the Republicans in the Senate have any backbone, they will take advantage of the President’s foolishness and quash the nomination – and Barack Obama will get the first taste of what he has coming. Mitt Romney and his fellow Republicans failed in 2012 to force a correction of course. Given the lay of the land, the strength they have in the Senate, and their control of the House of Representatives, the Republicans still in the game may be able to lay the groundwork for a comeback in 2014. Barack Obama is distinguished from his predecessors by the depth of his arrogance and his propensity to overreach.
None of this, which exists only in prospect, could be described, even were my prognostication precise and accurate, as a silver lining. But it is a reminder that nemesis exists. What goes around has a tendency to come around, and Barack Obama is overdue for a comeuppance. Let’s hope that Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, and their merry ladies and lads have the moxie to deliver the blow.