January 22, 2013

Yesterday, President Obama used his Inaugural Address to lay out an expansive case for progressive governance, one rooted in the country’s founding, history and identity, vowing action on everything from climate change to immigration to voting reform to gun control to expanded civil rights for women and gays.

What knits all these specifics together, however, is the speech’s implicit recognition that in order to accomplish any of these goals, he will have to defeat the opposition, rather than win it over. Indeed, one of the most significant things that happened yesterday is that Obama signaled recognition of the true nature of the implacable opposition he faced during his first term and will inevitably face for the duration of his second one. This means a second term in which Obama, rather than forever chase after the illusory notion that he can secure bipartisan cooperation through outreach and charm — not to mention adopting Republican ideas outright — will resort more directly to executive actions and to mobilizing the public to force cooperation wherever possible.

Fewer than 24 hours have passed since Obama’s speech, and we’re already reminded of the governing realities he faces. It appears likely that Harry Reid will announce to Senate Dems today that he favors watered down filibuster reforms that he has negotiated with Mitch McConnell. This all but ensures more unprecedented levels of obstruction from Senate Republicans. Meanwhile, it isn’t even clear that the GOP-controlled House can pass a temporary debt limit increase to avert default, thanks to House conservatives who would sooner flirt with economic Armageddon than cooperate with Obama and Democrats.

Indeed, yesterday’s speech appeared to be premised on the recognition that the GOP has essentially ceased to play the role of a functional opposition party. This was by design, according to Politico’s Glenn Thrush, who writes: “Obama, armed with an approval rating in the 50s, has decided the only way he can defeat Hill Republicans is to muster public opinion against them.”

There has been a great deal of caterwauling among Republicans and conservatives about the lack of bipartisan outreach in Obama’s speech. But this phony complaint requires a concerted effort to pretend that the last four years simply never unfolded as they did. As Paul Krugman points out, Obama’s refusal to play along with the charade that “outreach” and “charm” are the route to bipartisan cooperation is an important step towards recognition of the true nature of today’s “implacable” and “irrational” opposition. It signals a more concerted effort by Obama’s campaign arm to mobilize the public than it mustered last term, and more executive action on everything from guns to immigration to climate change.

* The latest on filibuster reform: Harry Reid has been negotiating a compromise package of reforms with Mitch McConnell, and he’ll present them to Senate Dems at a caucus meeting today. As expected, it looks as if the “talking filibuster” is gone, though this is an interesting development:

Reid has begun to focus on a proposal to tweak the filibuster rule by requiring the minority party to muster 41 votes to stall a bill or nominee. Under current rules, the responsibility is on the majority to round up 60 votes to end a filibuster.

One thing that will not happen: Reid will not exercise the “Constitutional option” and pass reforms by simple majority. And so, in the name of Senate comity, we’ll get weaker reforms that will only make it easier for the opposition to block the will of the majority for purely partisan purposes.

* Are Dems squandering a shot at real filibuster reform? The Times editorial board urges Dems to use the “Constitutional option” to force through the talking filibuster, arguing that it’s essential to real reform:

The best way to end the Senate’s sorry history of inaction is to end the silent filibuster, forcing lawmakers to explain themselves if they want to block legislation supported by the majority.

There is some argument as to whether the talking filibuster would actually be a disincentive to obstruction, given that grandstanding by Senate Republicans would be rewarded by interest groups and right wing media, but either way, it looks like it isn’t going to happen.

* About Obama’s promises on climate change: Obama’s inaugural promised action; the New York Times talks to leading Democrats and comes away convinced that Obama will move aggressively to take steps to address climate change via executive action. This is yet another sign that Obama is approaching his second term in a fundamentally different way from his first, recognizing the true nature of implacable conservative action and that he must simply go around it wherever possible.

* An early test of Obama’s climate change vow: Environmental groups are thrilled with Obama’s focus on climate change yesterday, but they see a test of Obama’s words looming: The question of whether he’ll block the Keystone XL pipeline when it comes up for approval. Also:  Who will Obama nominate to head the Environmental Protection Agency? The last EPA chief, Lisa Jackson, was a lightning rod for many on the right, so it’ll be interesting to see if he picks a replacement who also provokes a fight.

* GOP caves on debt limit: It passed virtually unnoticed yesterday, but Republicans put forth a plan that will extend the debt limit until May 19th. That’s four months from now, rather than the three month extension that had been previously discussed. This again confirms that Republicans have completely caved on the debt limit. By pushing the expiration well past the expiration dates of the sequester (March 1st) and the government shutdown (March 27th) it means the near term battle over spending and the size of government will be resolved well in advance of the debt limit deadline.

A long term debt ceiling hike will be attached to the final deal — meaning the threat of default has been completely removed from the conversation. Of course, the question remains whether — or how — this will pass the House.

* Obama claimed language of Founding Fathers: James Fallows had a take on Obama’s inaugural very similar to mine: He was rooting a progressive vision for today in the country’s founding values:

The rhetorical and argumentative purpose of the speech as a whole was to connect what Obama considers the right next steps for America — doing more things “together,” making sure that everyone has an equal chance, tying each generation’s interests to its predecessors’ and its successors’ — with the precepts and ideals of the founders, rather than having them be seen as excesses of the modern welfare state. [...] Obama wants to claim not just Lincoln but also Jefferson, Madison, Adams, George Washington, and the rest as guiding spirits for his kind of progressivism.

As I noted here yesterday, this is within the tradition of historical progressive speeches, delivered by the likes of FDR, Lyndon Johnson and Martin Luther King, who sought to ground their arguments in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

* A big day for gay rights: A great point from David Farenthold:

Obama was the first president to use the word “gay” in his inaugural address.

Also: As Richard Socarides notes, it was historic for Obama to link Stonewall (the site of a 1969 gay rights riot) to Seneca Falls and Selma, unambiguously calling for full marriage equality for gays nationally and linking the push for it to the struggles for women’s suffrage and civil rights for African Americans.

* And conservatives move to claim immigration: As Scott Conroy details, it is a key tell that conservative opinion leaders and elected officials are cautiously embracing Marco Rubio’s immigration plan. The question is whether the base  will allow the party to compromise with Dems on something that comes even close to genuine immigration reform, or whether this will further divide the party and make it tougher for more pragmatic party leaders to cope with the realities of demographic destiny.

What else?

 

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.