There is a considerable chance that liberals could be right about one thing – that we conservatives, in spite our quite justified skepticism towards President Obama, may not actually understand him fully. In short, we should entertain the fact that perhaps he is less of a zealous ideologue, and more of a ruthless strategist. Perhaps he is less a student of Jeremiah Wright and Saul Alinsky (the way he used to be) and more a student of David Axelrod and Rahm Emmanuel.
President Obama’s 2nd Inaugural Address was a speech delivered in his usual articulate tone that was exactly what we should have expected: where he spoke of unfinished tasks, limitless futures, and the endeavor to bring the Founders’ values of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness from the Declaration of Independence to further realization.
There was neither a domestic nor a foreign policy agenda spoken of. There were no details given about what kind of laws and reforms he would seek to enact in order to address specific shortcomings in our current system. In essence, President Obama’s 2nd Inaugural Address was riddled with the same kind of fluff he accused Mitt Romney’s campaign of spouting prior to the election. It was more idealistic than it was ideological.
Furthermore, a recent double interview he did with Chris Hughes and Franklin Foer had essentially the same rhetoric but with a greater focus on the reality of partisanship in Washington – something he understands quite well.
So what is his agenda? If he really is less of an ideologue, and more of a strategist, then his single overarching goal above all others, will be (for the purposes of sustaining his legacy) to ensure that a Democrat will take his place in 2016.
Now that sounds more than a little ridiculous – why would a president, just now entering his second term, care more about his successor than about himself? A Republican entering office in 2017 would seek to undo his work and would (intentionally or not) tarnish his legacy. A Democrat would be someone who would oblige himself/herself to carry the torch and continue on the path Obama sets him/her on.
The other reason is because President Obama doesn’t actually have a second term agenda. If he did, you’d have heard it in the speech or he’d be laying it down at the interview. His job for the next four years is to sit in office, wing his presidency, and guide the incremental treatises of Obamacare into fruition. It is possible he may also oversee the beginning of a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan as well, but that remains up in the air. And there will likely be a Supreme Court nomination, as Justice Ginsburg is expected to retire. Otherwise, his job is to just be a Democrat and to not screw it up for the party.
The new atmosphere of Washington, which President Obama has contributed to, has been that of chaos, dysfunction, and frustration. And as we saw from the election, this is exactly the type of atmosphere that he thrives off of. The portrait of his candidacy Obama painted was that of a righteous egalitarian hero fighting an uphill battle against the institutions of power supported and represented by the Republican Party who now control a critical branch of the government enabling them to halt all progress and cast the nation into a perpetuation of inequality and regression.
And nothing has changed. Over the next two years, President Obama will continue that campaign of embarrassing the Republican Party and inciting rage against them, in the hopes of regaining a Democratic majority in the House in 2014. Then he’ll have two more years much like his first two, empowering his presidency and the ideologies behind it, and subsequently paving the road to his successor.
President Obama may be exactly the ideologue he always was, but his praxis must be a cause for greater concern. If Republicans want a prayer of being able to, in Reagan’s memory, fiscally re-conservatize the nation and return it to the shining city on a hill it once was, we need first to understand the endgame of our opponent. This is it.