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President Obama’s Fork in the Road


President Obama’s Fork in the Road

Dr Patrick Basham
Washington (25 Jan 2010) – This week’s State of the Union address represents a fork in the road for the Obama White House. It will tell us whether President Obama’s political horizon is short or long term.

If President Obama’s speech circles the ideological wagons and continues his first‐year focus on the concerns of his Democratic Party’s liberal base, we’ll know that avoiding electoral disaster in November’s mid‐term elections is the White House’s priority.

However, if Obama’s speech rekindles the bipartisan, centrist rhetoric of the 2008 campaign, we’ll know that the White House is willing to radically scale down its ideological agenda in the hope this already historic presidency can enjoy a second term.

An emphasis in Wednesday evening’s speech on those issues, such as health care and populist Wall Street‐bashing, dear to the heart of the labor and netroots movements, will demonstrate the White House’s willingness to sacrifice, in the short term, the independent voters who provided Obama with his winning margin in 2008 but who have deserted him in droves over the past six months.

In exchange, the White House will hope to retain the admiration and, critically, the activism and donations of the most liberal Democratic Party supporters. Without their dollars and door‐knocking, the Democrats cannot retain either the House or the Senate in the mid‐term elections, which are always low‐turnout affairs that turn on the relative intensity of the two major parties’ most loyal voters.

But an emphasis in Wednesday’s speech on modest economic recovery measures coupled with the reform rhetoric that became Obama’s campaigning modus operandi will demonstrate the White House’s willingness to sacrifice its congressional cousins in order to recover sufficient ground with ordinary Americans, especially independent and moderate voters, that Obama retains an electoral foundation upon which to build a viable reelection campaign in 2012.

After losing Congress to the Republicans in the 1994 mid‐terms, President Bill Clinton faced the same choice that haunts President Obama today. Clinton chose political preservation over ideological purity. Hence, his subsequent State of the Union address famously stressed, “The era of big government is over.” Will Obama follow a Clintonesque path to a second term? Wednesday’s speech may provide us with the answer.

Patrick Basham is director of the Democracy Institute and a Cato Institute adjunct scholar.

To schedule an interview, please contact Dr Basham via:
Phone 301 390 3711
Cell 202 538 3271


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