by Michael Riccards
March 23, 2011
THE RE-EMERGENCE OF OBAMA
TRENTON, N.J. -- Within hours of the 2010 Congressional elections, Republican officeholders, media wizards, and 24/7 hate television and radio began to relish the demise of the President. Now, less than six months later, we cannot find strong, legitimate Republicans to run for president. All of a sudden, we are left with a collection of no-name governors (quick: identify one accomplishment of Governor Buddy Roemer) and has-beens from previous races. Where is Bob Dole when the GOP needs him most?
What happened to the sudden burst of enthusiasm against the most powerful Democrat incumbent? First, President Obama simply admitted that the nation had taught him a lesson, and he moved on to occupy the middle ground where most Americans occupy and vote. He made the liberals accept the Bush-era tax cuts for the rich and got a much-needed extension of unemployment benefits just in time for Christmas. The Republican leadership in Congress claimed victory, but it was the President who stood tall.
Then in Tucson, the Rep. Gabrielle Giffords tragedy brought forth another example of the President as consoler-in-chief. Like Reagan and Clinton, the President of the United States led Americans in a bout of grief and remorse, and rising above the horrors of a crazed gunman celebrated the virtues of moderation and reason.
Only Sarah Palin was na´ve enough to break the awesome silence, and she has never recovered. Even old GOP hands began to talk about the need for a candidate who was 'electable" in 2112. Her television show folded, her daughter lost her footing on reality television, and conservatives couldn't help but notice she only addressed groups that could come up with Palin's high speaking fee.
Even the Constitution provided the contemporary presidency with the opportunity to set the agenda. President Obama gave a State of the Union message to a joint session in which for the first time in memory, officials of both parties sat together. Gone were the boos and endless applause. The new moderate President gave a moderate speech, devoted to America's economic needs and America's huge deficits, but not in any real inflammatory way.
The American people want change, but not too much. They want deficit reduction, but do not want people to touch the sacred entitlement programs. They are weary of the costs of war, but let the federal Administrations fight two endless wars. They are deeply concerned about the growth of government, but feel leery taking away bargaining rights from public employees. Rights are slow to come in the American system, but when they do and are established the populace feels uncomfortable in the rollback. This is what will happen when the right moves more aggressively to end abortion. A good portion of the people in this nation dislike abortion, but they don't want it totally banned - they just don't want women to use too easily the right. Mr. Obama seems to understand that strange American ambivalence. We talk a good game, but we are fueled by the media cycle, and deep down we are fairly conservative, status-quo people. We don't like radical lurches to the left or the right. The political partisans and their think-tanks and money-raisers like extreme positions, but as the President had learned, the people are more steady; they dislike scenes like those in Wisconsin.
Mr. Obama has learned that the American people are still remarkably patriotic. Unlike during and after the Vietnam War, the groups that get the most applause anywhere are the veterans and soldiers in uniform. I recently went to an exhibit of tanks outside the state library. Little kids went up to salute the soldiers, and the adults said quietly, "Thanks, for your service."
President Ronald Reagan understood that sense of deep patriotism best - the old actor wasn't just acting. People are proud of the nation, and any president must feel that no matter how anti-Establishment he or she starts out, our sentiments become his or hers.
President Obama, though, will not defeat the Republicans in 2011: The Republicans will defeat themselves. They have already done what no Democrat could do - they have energized the weary union base of the party, especially in the rust-belt Midwest. In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie has helped to refocus the flaccid and arrogant teachers union because of what seems not an assault on the NJEA, but on the kids' teachers in the local schools. If we have learned anything it is that we cannot have educational reform while attacking the classroom teachers.
Mr. Obama will get stronger as most incumbents do. He once lacked experience; now he has it. We did not know him, and now we have seen him tested in battle. He is too left-wing, but now is protecting our Social Security and Medicare. We hate "Obama care," but who wants to go back to the medical uninsurance of two years ago?
The presidency is a tough job, but the President is now tougher, and we are more sober as a people.
AR Correspondent Michael Riccards is a political scientist, writer, and professor, and winner of Fulbright, Henry Huntington and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships. Riccards has been the president of three American colleges and has writes on public policy, the political process, and the American presidency.