Kenneth S. Baer is a managing director of the Harbour Group and the author of “Reinventing Democrats: The Politics of Liberalism from Reagan to Clinton.” He is a former associate director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Obama administration.
If you missed Barack Obama’s inaugural address on Monday, you might have thought that it was George McGovern who took the oath of office.
“Unabashedly progressive,” said ABC News correspondent Jonathan Karl; “President Obama goes on the offense for liberalism,” Politico proclaimed. A day later, Republicans jumped on board. “His unabashedly far-left-of-center inaugural speech certainly brings back memories of the Democratic Party in ages past,” thundered Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum said the speech “rejected and repudiated the ideas that have dominated American political discourse since the Carter presidency. It rejected not only Reagan, but Clinton.” Former Nixon and Reagan aide David Gergen concluded: “Gone were the third way of Bill Clinton and the centrism of Jimmy Carter. He emerged as an unapologetic, unabashed liberal — just what the left has long wanted him to be and exactly what the right has feared.”
Yet Obama’s address was firmly in the mainstream — of both the country and the Democratic Party, which has absorbed the lessons of its post-1968 defeats and synthesized into its core the New Democratic values of the Clinton era. The speech sounded so robustly liberal not because the president or his party has changed but because the Republican Party has, moving far outside the norms of American political thought.
On Monday, President Obama will preside over the grand reopening of his administration. It would be altogether fitting if he stepped to the microphone, looked down the mall, and let out a sigh: so many people expecting so much from a government that appears capable of so little. A second inaugural suggests new beginnings, but this one is being bookended by dead-end debates. Gridlock over the fiscal cliff preceded it and gridlock over the debt limit, sequester, and budget will follow. After the election, the same people are in power in all the branches of government and they don’t get along. There’s no indication that the president’s clashes with House Republicans will end soon.
Inaugural speeches are supposed to be huge and stirring. Presidents haul our heroes onstage, from George Washington to Martin Luther King Jr. George W. Bush brought the Liberty Bell. They use history to make greatness and achievements seem like something you can just take down from the shelf. Americans are not stuck in the rut of the day.
But this might be too much for Obama’s second inaugural address: After the last four years, how do you call the nation and its elected representatives to common action while standing on the steps of a building where collective action goes to die? That bipartisan bag of tricks has been tried and it didn’t work. People don’t believe it. Congress’ approval rating is 14 percent, the lowest in history. In a December Gallup poll, 77 percent of those asked said the way Washington works is doing “serious harm” to the country.
You’d think with all the vitriol from the right that Obama was the second coming of Satan, the least popular president in all of U.S. history, an usurper, not the recipient of two landslide mandates from the American people.
Instead, we find out that more Americans self-identify today as Democrats than as Republicans.
And not only that, but a president who is, despite all these attacks, is increasingly popular. Gallup reports that Obama’s current approval rating is 56 percent – or seven points higher than “the average of his monthly approval ratings (49%) for the first 48 months of his administration, between January 2009 and December 2012.”
Read that again. Higher than the first 48 months of his administration.
Yet the Republicans insist it is they, not Obama, who won a mandate from the American people in 2013. Obama is more popular than ever, and they are more popular than – meth labs and perpetual petty criminal Lindsey Lohan.
And consider this: “Five of the seven U.S. presidents re-elected since World War II had lower average job approval ratings in their second than in their first term.”
But President Obama is more popular now than he was from 2009 to 2012.
Congress on Friday officially confirmed President Obama’s reelection victory in November by formally counting the Electoral College ballots.
That count certified Obama’s 332-206 win over GOP candidate Mitt Romney.
Vice President Biden presided over the joint session of the House and Senate in the House chamber, which started shortly after 1 p.m. Biden handed certificates on the electoral votes of each state to members of the House and Senate, who read their results aloud to the chamber.
A revised vote count eight weeks after the presidential election finds President Obama nationally won 65.9 million votes — or 51.1% of the vote — against challenger Mitt Romney, who took 60.9 million votes and 47.2% of the total, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Obama is the first president to achieve that level of support in two elections since President Dwight D. Eisenhower was re-elected in 1956.
President Barack Obama’s stiffening resolve during the fight over the fiscal cliff can be traced directly to the lessons he drew from his hard-won triumph of the 2012 campaign.
He whipped Republicans a second time, parried the best attacks they could muster, and is now demanding that they respect the victory, if not the man who won it. That doesn’t mean Obama won’t eventually compromise, especially with the specter of a renewed recession lingering just over the horizon, but his body language is a lot more combative than the kinder, gentler Obama negotiating style of yore.