Jeffrey Toobin hits on something that’s been on my mind lately too — the continuing refusal of the White House to offer a proactive vision of a second Obama Administration:
In 2009, Obama arrived in the White House accompanied by solid Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate, so his big plans—say, on health care—had a realistic chance of coming to fruition. His majority has disappeared in the House and shrunk in the Senate, and it seems a virtual certainty that the Democratic heights of those first two years are out of reach for the foreseeable future. In this way, then, Obama’s refusal to lay out visionary ideas amounts to a recognition of political reality. If he can’t push through a legislative agenda, the theory appears to go, then what’s the point of proposing one?
I think it was sometime around March of 2011 when I first realized that the best case scenario for American politics over the next 5 or so years was utter stasis. Polarization and the filibuster being what they are, a President without decisive majorities in both chambers of Congress was a President who could only veto or tinker. Considering how unlikely it was (and remains) that the Democrats could reverse 2010’s shellacking so soon, I was led to an unpleasant conclusion: to a significant degree, the Obama Presidency was most likely already over.
Brief moments representing opportunities for change, punctuating long periods of little or no truly noteworthy action; that’s the norm for American politics. Even though Roosevelt was President for nearly 13 years, for example, a glance at his record shows most of his signature accomplishments came early. He spent a good many of those dozen years protecting the gains he’d made (and, of course, readying for, then presiding over, the war). In other words, there’s a reason why the media places so much emphasis on a newly elected President’s first 100 days.
But remembering the excitement and ambition that characterized the beginning of the Obama Era, it’s hard to find comfort in this history. C’est la vie, I know; but as Andrew Sullivan wrote today, Obama “once offered something more.”