The latest presidential message is that he is not concerned about the nation’s capital but about moving the country forward on the strength of its grass roots. Barack Obama is expecting to set an agenda to do that and then use executive orders and the bully pulpit to accomplish it.
What’s new about that?
This is a president who always has been more comfortable campaigning than pursuing the nitty gritty of Washington politics in achieving his goals. As a consequence, he seems to have failed to develop the skills necessary to accomplish great things (with the exception of the Affordable Care Act) in a divided Congress. More time spent learning the art of political compromise and manipulation, as coarse a word as that may seem, would have served him well.
Now Obama obviously faces severe challenges at a time when his overall approval with Americans is at its lowest, leaving him to face a coming midterm election that could end the congressional division in favor of the Republicans. That would, of course, make his last two years in office miserably benign with his only hope for historic redemption the things he has set in motion for a successor to accomplish like immigration reform, the end of two wars, health care reform and a better economy.
The dilemma he finds himself in, for instance, is trying to satisfy the left of his own Democratic Party and the right of the GOP at a time when more moderate Republican leaders like House Speaker
John Boehner of Ohio have indicated a willingness to tear up the party’s “just say no” polices of the past five years and present him with opportunities for compromise. The first of these would be immigration. To his credit, the president has said he is willing to soften his own demands and move forward.
Another would be a positive decision on the highly controversial Keystone XL pipeline from Canada through the center of the nation to the Gulf Coast. The project, which Republican proponents claim is of great benefit to America’s domestic oil needs, has been solidly opposed by conservationists and the Democratic Party left as potentially environmentally disastrous.
But the State Department released a report finding that the pipeline would not “significantly exacerbate” climate change through greenhouse emissions, giving Obama a perfect chance to approve the plan and show he is eager for some bipartisan accommodations.
The pipeline would carry 830,000 barrels of crude oil a day from Alberta, and Obama said last summer that he would favor the project if it did not further worsen the climate. Another factor Obama must consider is that if the pipeline is not approved, the oil will be loaded into railroad tankers for transportation, a potentially dangerous method since rail lines run through urban areas. On at least three occasions recently there have been derailments that cause oil spills, including one recent fire.
Yet the president seems still reluctant, contending he wants to have more investigation by other Cabinet members and agency heads — leaving his critics to logically conclude he wants to study the matter to death and to put Secretary of State John Kerry between the proverbial rock and a hard place.
One of the initiatives the president’s men have emphasized in his determination to bypass the Congress through executive action is expanding broadband service to 20 million American students in 15,000 schools during the next two years.
The Federal Communications Commission has announced that it will double from $1 billion to $2 billion the amount it spends on adding high-speed Internet connections in schools and libraries. The money will come from restructuring the $2.4 billion E-rate program for advanced telecommunications and information services. The program is supported by fees paid by telecommunications users.
How much time the president spends campaigning for individual Democrat candidates over the next nine months until the November elections is problematic. Clearly his lower poll ratings have made him less desirable on the stump. On the other hand, he clearly expects to be taking his agenda to the people and advocating for party candidates is routinely a part of that.
The president’s State of the Union pledge to spend less time warring with Congress and more with assuring Americans that he will move forward is hardly news. It’s been that way since he was first elected in 2008, and it hasn’t worked terribly well.
Dan K. Thomasson, a Hoosier native and Franklin College trustee, is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service. Send comments to email@example.com.