- - Thursday, May 15, 2014


President Obama began 2014 with a hard left turn, from which he will never depart. Many are now wondering what course he will take after the November election. In doing so, they are ignoring the reality he faces. The president will maintain his current course to the left for the rest of his presidency, for the simple reason that he has nowhere else to go.

Mr. Obama made his leftward lurch because this is a crucial election year, and he needs to motivate his base of supporters. He signaled the move in this year’s State of the Union speech, where income inequality was the theme. He followed up rhetoric with arithmetic, submitting a budget that translated his move to the left into numbers. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), Mr. Obama’s budget would increase spending and taxes prodigiously.

The president’s budget would have increased spending by $338 billion over the CBO’s baseline over the next decade. This increase was proposed, despite federal spending never retrenched from its 29 percent jump from 2007 to 2009. If anything, his spending increases were masked by official estimating rules that hide hundreds of billions more in real costs from the ledger.

On taxes, his budget would have increased federal revenues $1.39 trillion over the CBO’s current policy estimates. This is despite the fact the increase would come on the heels of 2013’s massive revenue hike of $324 billion and CBO estimates that federal revenues are projected to have increased by 3 percent of gross domestic product from 2012 to 2015 — the largest increase in decades.

Mr. Obama’s reasons for worry about November are two-fold — both present and past. His popularity is falling now and his supporters’ participation fell in the midterm elections four years ago. The president and Democrats cannot afford another sharp drop in their base supporters’ participation, especially if it might be even greater as his popularity declines.

Up to this point, the administration’s political calculus is very clear: Do whatever it takes to maximize the electoral impact this November in order to minimize the political damage that is likely to occur.

It is the next juncture of the journey that has many confused: Where will Mr. Obama go once November’s elections are over? Will he moderate, or even turn toward Republicans to work on bipartisan initiatives that could produce real accomplishments during his remaining time in office? The answer to both is “no.”

Mr. Obama will stay on his sharply partisan course because he no longer has meaningful support anywhere else along the political spectrum worth pursuing by changing course.

It has long been evident that the president has no support among the right. In 2012, he received just 6 percent of the vote of those self-identifying as Republicans.

What has been overlooked is that Mr. Obama has no effective base of support in the center, either. He won just 45 percent of independents in 2012. According to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, his job-approval rating among independents is just 33 percent positive to 59 percent negative. Essentially, independents are now so far gone that there is no point in trying to appeal to them.

As a result, Mr. Obama is increasingly dependent on the left. This dependence will only increase after November’s election. Currently, it is impossible to see how Republicans will not be in a stronger congressional position next year. Even if they do not take the Senate, which currently must be at least a 50-50 proposition, they will increase their numbers from today’s 45 seats.

Republicans’ greater legislative leverage will allow them increased ability to choose unfavorable political terrain for Mr. Obama. Therefore, he will need the left’s help — and unity — just to maintain his current position in a rearguard action as he exits the political battlefield. Were the left to fail to hold steady around the president, his political position would quickly become untenable. The risk of this is far greater than any reward independents could realistically offer.

Republicans are unlikely to accept Mr. Obama on issues, except on their terms — especially in the wake of a big November win. Conversely, the left will not abandon him unless Mr. Obama chooses to accept such a Republican offer.

The president is stuck. He must maintain his leftward tilt, simply to attempt to maintain his current political position, which is one of increasing isolation from all but the left.

Similarly, Democrats are stuck with Mr. Obama. They cannot abandon him for fear of alienating his loyal constituencies without whom they have no prospect of winning on a national level. Even if Mr. Obama is leading them in a direction they feel they should not go, they have little choice but to follow him.

J.T. Young served in the Treasury Department and the Office of Management and Budget from 2001 to 2004 and as a congressional staff member from 1987 to 2000.



Click to Read More

Click to Hide