National News

Obama's burden

By Askia Muhammad -Senior Editor- | Last updated: Dec 31, 2013 - 9:54:37 AM

What's your opinion on this article?

Analysts say Republican obstructionism and other challenges await, but don’t count him out

President Barack H. Obama in the second year of his second term faces daunting challenges. Photo: flick/WhiteHouse photo stream
WASHINGTON ( - Instead of looking back on 2013—decidedly the worst year since his first inauguration in 2009—President Barack Obama is optimistically looking forward at the challenges he may be able to turn in his favor in 2014, the second year of his second term.

The pace of enrollment by the uninsured into healthcare exchanges under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is increasing, with as many as 1 million signed up by year’s end, on the way to the goal of 7 million enrollees by April. This alone relieves Mr. Obama’s major source of political discomfort in 2013.

At his State of the Union address to Congress in late January, the President is expected to praise the bi-partisan budget agreement approved by Congress in late December; warn Republicans to agree to a debt ceiling increase in late February; call for comprehensive immigration reform; and call for economic reforms which begin to close the widening income/wealth-gap between the rich and the poor; and he will try to turn his politically unpopular diplomatic breakthroughs with Iran and Syria, into a real change in foreign policy which has relied in the past almost entirely on war and belligerence to settle differences abroad between the U.S. and its allies and their adversaries.

With any success at all on those thorny issues, Mr. Obama hopes his leadership will help reward Congressional Democrats who have for the most part stood by his policies, with another majority in the Senate and even the remote chance of winning back the majority in the House of Representatives in the 2014 mid-term elections, come November.

While every President of the United States has had considerable power with which to confront the political opposition he’s faced, what’s different now is that this president’s opponents have been particularly incorrigible and unified.

“I think his biggest burden is that he has so many people who are just reflexively opposed to anything he wants to do,” Dr. David Bositis, Vice President and Senior Research Analyst at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies told The Final Call. Other experts agree.

“Many on the left in the progressive community in the United States have severely underestimated the strength of the right wing,” said Dr. Gerald Horne, professor of history and African American studies at the University of Houston, “not least among the Euro-American community, not least among the working class and the middle class. And because of that inadequate diagnosis, it’s difficult to come up with a remedy, other than to throw stick-balls at Obama for not being able to accomplish many of his goals in the face of the fierce and militant opposition.”

The President however is unfazed by the strength or the depth of his opposition according to his aides. “For those of us who have known him for a while—and I include all of you in that—you know better than to underestimate him,” White House Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett told The Trotter Group of African American Columnists and Commentators at a White House session during the group’s annual meeting in December. “Just think of all the times he’s been underestimated in the past.

“He does not get distracted by the news cycle of the day, or the conventional wisdom of the moment. He keeps focused on why he ran for office in the first place, and that is to move our country forward and to provide opportunity for all Americans.”

“Most certainly don’t count him out,” said Dr. Bositis.

Thanks to a decision taken in late November by Senate Democrats to change the rule governing filibusters requiring a 60-vote “super majority” to confirm presidential nominees, in 2014 and going forward, Mr. Obama will be able to implement many of his stalled policies.

“What will be clear is for the next year, he can appoint whoever he wants,” Dr. Bositis predicted. “For example, if there is an opening on the Supreme Court—Democrats said, except for Supreme Court appointments, no more filibuster. Believe me, if one of the conservatives on the Supreme Court died, that decision would be overturned immediately. There would be no more filibuster for any judges and Obama would be able to appoint a fifth, non-conservative judge, in which case that would be a major and long-lasting legacy.”

In addition, continuing progress on the implementation of the Affordable Care Act—nicknamed “Obamacare”—will mean that roadblock will remain in the President’s rearview mirror in 2014 and beyond.

House Republicans staged 43 highly publicized votes to repeal the legislation before its Oct. 1 implementation. Then, when the administration botched the online rollout of the registration process, that fueled even more condemnation by the GOP and even by some faint Democrats in competitive districts. Mr. Obama’s job approval rating, even his personal likeability and personal trust plummeted to all time lows in public opinion polls following the early Obamacare registration debacle.

“Once the Affordable Care Act starts (taking hold),” Dr. Bositis continued, “there are going to be people who have not had insurance, who are all of a sudden going to have insurance, and that’s going to be a big, big deal.

“Remember, some of the smarter conservatives have admitted that they can’t let the Affordable Care Act get going, because if they let the Affordable Care Act get going, it’s going to take on a life of its own and there will be nothing they can do about it. Next year, there are going to be millions of people in this country who don’t have insurance now who are going to have insurance,” he explained.

By February or March 2014, Congress will have to approve another extension of the U.S. debt ceiling, an agreement which was not included in the recently enacted bi-partisan two-year budget agreement. Republicans have promised to extract further spending cuts, aiming now for entitlement programs like Social Security. Mr. Obama has warned that he will not negotiate with the intransigent House Republican, Tea Party-faction over an agreement to pay for debts already incurred and agreed to by Congress.

“It’s difficult to see what kind of recovery Mr. Obama can make in 2014,” said Dr. Horne. “It’s difficult to see immigration reform emerging, not least since the White-right is adamantly opposed to immigration reform since as they see it, it will bring more Latinos and Asians into the country.

“It’s very difficult to see him getting traction on climate change, because the White-right does not accept the science of climate change. Once again, things come back in the United States of America to the strength and the stubbornness of a very powerful right-wing community that has a mass base in the Euro-American community, and until the progressive community takes steps to address that question, particularly to the extent that the White-right has a foothold in the working class and the middle class, not only will Mr. Obama have difficulty,” any potential progressive heir to the Obama legacy, such as Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, will have the same problem in 2017, he said.

That’s because up until 2013, few national observers have truly fathomed the fierceness and the militancy of the opposition to Mr. Obama’s policies and to him personally. “There are many conservatives, yes,” said Dr. Bositis, “(who) would rather see the country fail, and they would rather see people suffering than see either Obama succeed or any kind of policy that isn’t in keeping with their conservatism.”

In foreign affairs, the President’s burden is made even more awkward by dug-in opposition by leaders of both parties here in this country. Despite unprecedented breakthroughs on his watch with Syria concerning its stockpile of chemical weapons, and with Iran concerning its nuclear enrichment plans, the Israel-lobby would prefer more saber-rattling and possible military action than any peaceful resolution. Other challenges are complicated by some of Mr. Obama’s own decisions.

“On the international level,” Dr. Horne explained, “it’s clear that the Obama administration wants to pivot toward Asia, which mean’s China.

“But, you may recall, when he first came into office that was to be accompanied by a reset with Russia, because it’s apparent that the United States confronting Russia and China together is more than a notion. And yet, the Obama administration finds itself doing both.

“Look at its misguided policy towards Ukraine, for example, where it’s confronting Russia head-on, and its confrontation with China off the coast of eastern China. So, I guess in the longer term, it’s probably evident that the most severe challenge for the Obama administration comes from (the) international situation because as we begin to mark the 100th anniversary of the onset of World War I in 2014, it’s evident that unfortunately the international situation today, in an eerie way, resembles some ways the international situation at the end of 1913.

“In the end of 1913 there was a rising Germany, just like there is a rising China. There was a declining Britain, just like there is a declining United States of America, and we all know the rather morbid consequences of World War I, so it is for that reason that I say that I would say that Mr. Obama’s most severe challenge is in the international arena,” said Dr. Horne.

“In terms of foreign policy, his wanting to negotiate with Iran about their stopping their nuclear program, almost immediately there were people in the Congress speaking out in public who were totally against everything he wanted to do,” said Dr. Bositis.

“There are people who don’t want to put any pressure on Israel about coming to terms with the Palestinians. There are people who are unhappy with what he’s done in terms of Syria,” he said. These stumbling blocks also stand in the way of the President’s ability to deliver on his pre-election promise to close the Guantanamo prison camp where hundreds are being detained, although most have been cleared for release by all U.S. intelligence agencies because they pose no threat to this country. Yet the prisoners languish, some even resorting to hunger strikes because of the hopelessness of their plight, with the U.S. turning to painful force-feeding the inmates to keep them from starving themselves to death.

“Change is always hard,” Ms. Jarrett said Mr. Obama told a group of youth leaders recently. “The Civil Rights Movement was hard. People sacrificed their freedom. They went to prison. They got beat up. Look through our history and then look around the world. It’s always hard. You can’t lose faith because it’s hard. It just means you have to try harder. That’s really what drives him every day,” said Ms. Jarrett.

And at the end of the day, Mr. Obama remains in control and holding all the “trump cards.”

“Remember something,” Dr. Bositis said. “These people can say or make all these claims about Obama, but the fact of the matter is that Obama is president, and he’s going to be president for three more years, and he’s going to have a lot more influence than all of these clowns,” who disparage his leadership.

“He’s not going to blink. He learned that lesson. With these guys, they’re like rapists. If you give them an inch, they will own you,” Dr. Bositis concluded.