By Marcus Johnson
Obama began his first term by making history as the first Black President. His base expected big things from the man they believed to be their liberal savior after eight years of George W. Bush. But Obama has not delivered much.
His major legislative accomplishment, the Healthcare Bill, was a watered down version of the original, and worse yet, might still get repealed or declared unconstitutional by the courts. The stimulus package might have saved the country from outright economic disaster, but it didn’t make the economy rebound. And you don’t get political points for what you might have averted. His Dodd-Frank bill produced some restrictions on Wall-Street, but not nearly enough to stop another financial crisis. Obama has had a few small legislative victories, but little to protect or enhance his reputation and political power. There have been many more public embarrassments, such as the Debt crisis, where Republicans effectively delegitimized the President. So what should have President Obama done during his first term?
First, President Obama should have recognized that his overarching strategy of bipartisanship was destined for failure. It is impossible to work with a group whose ultimate goal is not for the betterment of the country, but for your loss at the next election. The Republicans created a cohesive environment where they banded together to oppose the President at every turn. He fell into the trap of asking them to help craft his legislation, and they effectively limited his legislative success. Then when his legislation did not work as planned, they blamed him for the ensuing problems. Obama would have been far better off trying to build the same kind of connection and cohesion inside the Democratic Party. Instead, he let the Republicans use him and frame all of the issues. They delegitimized him and severely weakened his political power.
Obama’s next problem was one of timing and misuse of power. Instead of focusing directly and singularly on the Stimulus package, he worked on and passed Healthcare concurrently. This allowed Republicans and his political opponents to bash the President for working on Healthcare legislation at a time when America was in its biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression. This produced two issues: one, Obama was not able to get a big enough stimulus package as he needed to help the economy rebound. And two, it forced him to water down Healthcare. It is not universal, and it won’t even come into effect until 2014. Why would you use (waste) your political power on legislation that won’t even take effect until your theoretical second term, when you could consolidate your power on a bigger Stimulus and gain political power after it was effective? An effective Stimulus package would have given Obama the political clout to create an effective and more immediate Healthcare bill later in his presidency.