June 24, 2013

As we head into the doldrums of summer and the lame-duck portion of President Obama’s term, multiple events are still roiling our politics and shaping the next two electoral cycles.

Whatever one thinks of Edward Snowden’s revelations about the NSA data-gathering, his world tour so far has been humiliating to the United States and possibly very damaging to our already contentious and deteriorating relations with the world’s other leading powers. If the body language between Vladimir Putin and President Obama was frosty at the recent Group of Eight meeting, how might we describe it now? As cold as Siberian permafrost? Well, we might, except permafrost is melting. Along those lines, Mr. Obama is delivering tomorrow what the White House is promoting as a “major” speech on combating climate change. Meanwhile, the immigration bill seems poised to pass the U.S. Senate but fail in the House. Oh, and Hillary Clinton said recently that it would be good to see a female president in her lifetime; a PAC supporting the notion that Mrs. Clinton should fill that historic role is already raising money, as is one trying to block that possibility.

Individually, these stories have significant political gravity; collectively, they could change the political orbit for the next few years. Is Snowden the catalyst for a formal re-declaration of a Cold War? Do candidates gain traction attacking the current government for being “soft” on Russia and China? Does Mr. Obama’s speech finally put climate change back on the political agenda? Which base will the speech motivate more? And ditto for immigration reform.

My guess is that Snowden’s peregrinations will continue to make the Obama administration look weak and will embolden foreign-policy hawks within both parties. My hope is that the climate-change speech will be the beginning of a new push for serious carbon reductions, but my experience says that the pro-carbon, climate deniers may have greater focus and staying power. Either bet seems good on the immigration bill: Either it passes, and Mr. Obama and Democrats get credit for finally bringing millions of hard-working immigrants out of the shadows and into the mainstream of productive life, or it fails, and the radical House Republicans have delivered the fast-growing voting bloc to Democrats for the foreseeable future. Oh, and let’s not forget Mrs. Clinton: Her options are open, but one looks a little more likely than the rest.