by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
As we prepare to listen to the president’s State of the Union address tonight, Jonathan S. Tobin of Commentary magazine suggests to us that a confrontational, unabashedly liberal speech could yield some unexpected results.
The president’s confrontational strategy is based on two factors that were very much in evidence six weeks as the fiscal cliff was barely averted by a deal most Republicans hated. One is that the majority of the House GOP caucus fears being blamed for any standoff with the president that will harm the economy. The other is that the Republicans are so divided between mainstream members of Congress led by House Speaker John Boehner and Tea Party insurgents that there is no way for them to work together to thwart the president’s initiatives.
But what Obama fails to realize is that a presidential attempt to shove a liberal agenda down the throat of Congress is the one thing that can reunite the GOP. Moreover, having already given in on tax increases to avoid the fiscal cliff, the pressure he thinks he can exert on Congress to raise taxes again is not as great as he thinks it is. With some Republicans already foolishly welcoming the sequester, Obama may have created a set of circumstances in which Boehner will have no choice but to do something that he’d rather avoid and call the president’s bluff.
Barack Obama would not be the first president to misinterpret a relatively narrow if clear re-election victory as a mandate to transform American politics. But its doubtful that any of his predecessors have demonstrated more overconfidence than he is showing by assuming that a 51 percent vote means that a body of Congress led by his opposition must knuckle under to his dictates without a fight.
Republicans have decided that any effort to force the president to deal with the looming budget crisis by forcing his hand via the debt ceiling is a mistake. But the notion that they will abandon the entitlement reform that is the only path to fiscal sanity while also buying into his call for more “investments” that will sink the country further into debt is pure science fiction.