Republicans should be thrilled with President Obama’s State of the Union address.
That’s because the extremely limited vision of government he presented last night is exactly what Republicans plotted to create since day one of the Obama White House.
In his fifth State of the Union address, the president essentially said that he is going to go it alone. His major policy plan for 2014 is to bypass Congress altogether and use targeted executive orders to get things done.
As part of this plan for a so-called “year of action,” the president said that he will soon issue an order unilaterally raising the minimum wage for federal contract workers to $10.10 an hour.
A flurry of executive orders is obviously better than nothing, but it’s hardly the kind of bold change this country needs to undo the destruction caused by thirty-three years of Reaganomics.
In the next few weeks, Republicans will no doubt say that Obama’s plan to use his executive powers is evidence that he is a tyrant intent on shredding apart the Constitution.
But ignore their whining. A weakened president who has given up on pushing for broad reforms is exactly what Republicans want. And they’ve been planning this moment since the day Obama took office.
On January 20, 2009, a night when most Americans were out celebrating the end of the Bush years and the beginning of a new era, a group of powerful Republicans was planning the end of Obama presidency before it even really began.
At the Caucus Room restaurant right here in Washington, DC, GOP leaders drew up a plan to intentionally sabotage Obama at every point possible.
On the guest list for the “invitation only” meeting were Republican Congressmen Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan, Kevin McCarthy, Pete Sessions, Jeb Hensarling, Pete Hoekstra and Dan Lungren. Republican Senators Jim DeMint, Jon Kyl, Tom Coburn, John Ensign and Bob Corker were also in attendance. The whole thing was orchestrated by Republican propaganda mastermind Frank Luntz.
Over the course of four hours, this group of the most powerful conservative lawmakersin the country committed to a plan of action. They promised each other that they would filibuster and obstruct any and all legislation supported by the new President Obama.
Newt Gingrich, who was also there, appeared on my radio show a few years ago and actually bragged that the whole reason for the dinner was to come up with a plan to undermine President Obama.
Flash forward five years later, and it’s clear that the Caucus Room conspiracy has worked like a charm. Except for a brief period during his first year in office when he pushed through healthcare reform and financial reform, President Obama hasn’t been able to accomplish much of anything.
Republicans have blocked his nominees, filibustered his bills, and even shut down the government in what eventually turned out to be a futile attempt to defund Obamacare.
There’s a reason that this year’s State of the Union address sounded a lot like last year’s State of the Union address: Republicans in Congress have made it pretty much impossible for President Obama to accomplish any of his goals as chief executive.
Just this past year they killed gun control, sat on immigration reform, and froze efforts to raise the minimum wage.
With his announcement last night that he will essentially go it alone and sign executive orders to get things done, President Obama gave up the fight against the modern day do-nothing Congress. He all but admitted that the Caucus Room conspiracy has succeeded. Somewhere, Frank Luntz is smiling.
While, progressives should support the president as he works to make his “year of action” a reality, they should demand more than just a small-scale strategy - they should demand that the President call out Republican sabotage for what it is: a naked, shameless plan to protect the interests of the richest Americans at the expense of everyone else.
If President Obama wants to do more than just issue executive orders, he needs to match the Republicans point for point. He needs to do what Harry Truman did back in 1948 and call them out for being the party of “special interests.”
But there’s a very good chance that the President won’t pull a Harry Truman and stick it to the GOP. He has now been in office for five years, and except for a few brief periods over the past year and the year before during his re-election campaign, he has been unwilling to embrace the kind of bully pulpit politics that made old-school Democrats like Harry Truman and FDR so successful.
Part of this, I believe, has to do with the President himself. At his core, he is not a bleeding-blue progressive - he is a Clinton Democrat, the kind of person Beltway types call a “moderate.”
He will support liberal causes and bring the fight to the Republicans, but he will only do so when he’s pushed by people on the left.
That’s where “We the People” come in. If we want President Obama to do more than just sign executive orders, we need to start organizing from the ground up.
We need to do what the Tea Party did and start taking over local political bodies like precinct committees.
We need to rally behind the Elizabeth Warrens of the country, people who can single-handedly shift the debate surrounding issues like student loans and Social Security reform.
The stakes couldn’t be higher.
We are now more than halfway through the second two-term Democratic presidency in the past two decades. This is an opportunity that shouldn’t be missed. Demographics are shifting in favor of progressives, and although the country is still mired in Reaganomics and Republicans have succeeded in neutering this president, there is still a chance for real change, the kind of change Obama promised when he first came to Washington.
But that kind of change will only happen if progressives rally together, call out Republicans for conspiring to bring down the Obama White House, and push the president to the left.
He may be satisfied with his small-scale “year of action,” but that doesn’t mean we should be.