This week Obama delivered two of his strongest messages so far about his second term. Both messages — a new strategy in breaking the Senate stranglehold blocking hisfederal judicial appointments, and his dramatic reversal on drone warfare — indicate just one thing: Barack Obama, like all second-term presidents before him, has hit his tipping point. It’s over. With his second set of 100 days starting out no less frustrating than his first, Obama, like all second-termers in modern history, has tipped from legislating the future to protecting his past — Obama’s historic legacy, stacked up against those of the other 42 presidents.
Now, this could be one last gasp for help, a grand stand, if you will, given the nature of Obama’s historic legislative legacy. Obama’s legacy is all about protecting legislation that passed in his first term — from Obamacare to consumer protection from the banks and Wall Street — and that conservatives in this country have stopped from being fully implemented.
Unlike most post–World War II presidents, Obama could never rely on Congress, nor the conservative federal judiciary, in either domestic or foreign policy. As a result, he has pushed executive action to the limit in both. While Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) and Richard Nixon both pushed executive action to the limit as commander-in-chief in Vietnam, Obama has had to push hard on the domestic front as well. But unlike Johnson and Nixon — where the blowback knocked them into the column with failed presidencies — we can still ask can Obama blow back the blowback?
The GOP stranglehold strategy could end up strangling social conservatives and social conservatism in the midterm elections. Obama is pressing full-court on judicial appointments that will shore up his legislative legacy and the rights of all those in hiscosmopolitan rainbow coalition. Meanwhile, reversing his administration’s reliance on drones, after pulling out of our last war, could be the win-win strategy LBJ never found. Looks like it will be a long, hot summer and we will have to see which direction the blowback blows.