Truman in 2012

The President running against the “do-nothing Congress.” Worked the last time.

A Democratic President seeking re-election in the face of a Republican-dominated Congress has two options: Clintonian “triangulation” – trying to cast himself as a moderate caught between the extremes represented by the Congressional parties – and Trumanesque “Give ’em Hell,” sending “a message a week” and setting up the “do-nothing Congress” as his adversary and the adversary of the voters.

Obama’s post-partisanship might seem to fit him for the Clinton role. But since the Republicans who will dominate the House and have the capacity to block action in the Senate are far more interested in his political destruction than they are in advancing the national interest, the situation is going to force him to be a Truman. I suspect he’ll do pretty well at it. The polls show that the public already correctly perceives Obama as wanting to work with the Republicans and the Republicans unwilling to reciprocate.

These Republicans are pretty easy to run against. Wanting to extend tax cuts for the over-paid but not unemployment benefits for the out-of-work can’t really be a popular idea. Neither is Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, or – I suspect – a new nuclear arms race.

Meanwhile, the latest PPP poll shows Obama carrying Virginia against all his potential rivals in 2012. Yes, it’s possible to make an electoral map where the Republicans carry the White House while losing Virginia. But it’s not easy.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

11 thoughts on “Truman in 2012”

  1. The public may see Obama as more willing to play well with others, but they don't care. What they want is for the elected to accomplish something useful, not complain about procedure.

  2. Well, I'm in Virginia, and things feel quite different than they did two years ago. If there is big enthusiasm again for Obama, maybe. Right now there is more of an 'eat your porridge' feeling about the guy. Certainly I think he could beat Palin here. But if the Reeps nominate Daniels, or Pawlenty, or Christie, I'll be surprised if Obama wins. That said, a poll is actual data, and all I have is feelings.

  3. Mark helpfuled:

    "These Republicans are pretty easy to run against. "

    Yes. I've been saying that for over three decades. Rarely seems to get traction, tho…

  4. Not enough. A third party anti-war liberal, even a Ralph Nader, will take enough votes from Obama to let a crazy Repub win. If we are going to see a second term Obama has to do a lot more.

  5. I went to an interactive map and found it surprisingly easy for Republicans to win in 2012 without winning Virginia. The 2004 result wouldn't have changed if Virginia switched, and that seems as good a starting point for 2012 as any. (My guess is that Wisconsin and New Hampshire will come out differently from the 2004 result, but the other states won't.)

  6. Nobody can force Obama to be tough. If his choices are to take Truman as a model and give'em hell, or to be a wimp, get nothing done for two years, and be defeated in 2012, do you really want to take the bet that he'll take the first choice?

  7. I have ceased to think that Team Obama has the political nous or the guts to see what it has to do. I suspect Obama will get all mannered, professorial and wonkish, dutifully playing to the Republican script of out-of-touch and elitest. The President seems to have lost the power or ability to define what he stands for.

    Perhaps Plouffe will bring back some visceral political crotch-kicking. We can only hope.

  8. You get most of the benefits of being President in the first term; Nice pension, the Presidential library, respect for the rest of your life. The second term? Ok, you get to enjoy a few more years of celebrity chefs and the fairways being cleared for you, but we all know the job ages people, and it's a hassle.

    So I'm thinking he won't run for reelection, or at any rate, not very hard. This is based on the assumption that he really just wanted to BE President, not do the job. We'll see.

  9. There's a really, really easy way that this can be manifested through the tax fight. Since I am all about the numbered plans today, here's another one:

    1. Let all of the tax cuts expire as is currently the plan.

    2. During the State of the Union, call for new ones solely for the middle class, or something like a payroll tax cut which would in theory affect everyone but those at the bottom the most.

    3. Ask the Republicans to either join you in promoting middle class tax cuts–Obama tax cuts.

    Unless there's some sort of roadblock I am not thinking of, they would either vote with him, handing him a legislative victory even if they shared in it, or they'd vote against him and instantly go on the record in a more high profile way of denying the middle class tax cuts. And if they do that, he can remind the public of their obstruction every single day until the next election.

    Where's the downside? I'm often accused of placing too much faith in Obama's ability to engage in extra-dimensional chess, but perhaps this was the strategy all along. After all, I don't see the tax cut issue making that much of a difference, except on the margin, in the midterms, and if they go on record as opposing him when more people might be paying attention, the Republican House becomes instantly tarred as trying to help only rich people.

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