Former Vice President Dick Cheney sounded more like a man trying to convince himself than anybody else when he told NBC News that President Barack Obama will be a one-term president. To convince himself this very unconvincing bit of GOP orthodoxy will hold water, Cheney ticked off the by now familiar checklist of Obama’s supposed weaknesses. They include his health care reform package, big government spending and stifling of the private sector. A month ago, Cheney’s list of alleged Obama’s failings might have had some public ring to them. They have been repeated long and loud enough by GOP leaders, and polls showed that a big percent of Americans had the same criticisms of Obama.
That has changed. Obama moved quickly to shore up ties with business with a series of well-timed and publicized meetings and assurances that stirring private sector job growth and budget deficit reducing initiatives was the administration’s number one priority. He agreed to a corporate friendly tax cut, and watched as polls showed that a majority of Americans do not want the health care bill repealed.
Cheney got the message that Obama’s popularity and approval has jumped, and in the wake of his handling of the Tucson massacre, this has made for the moment even some in the GOP — including Cheney — grudgingly give Obama high marks. But that’s not enough to kill Cheney’s delusion that Obama is as good as toast when it comes to winning another term.
Cheney and other GOP leaders have little choice but to paint Obama as a liberal, big spending, expansive government Democrat. This is the tag on Democrats that has worked political miracles for GOP presidential contenders and presidents for the better part of the past three decades.
President Ronald Reagan masterfully crafted the “get government off your back” line into a solid Republican selling point. He targeted the remnants of the Great Society programs. He crippled funding and further eroded public enthusiasm for social spending. Conservatives took the cue and painted the government as pro-higher taxes, pro-bureaucracy, pro-immigrant and especially pro-welfare and pro-rights of criminals.
The pack of right-wing talk show hosts, ultra conservative bloggers and websites, and Tea Party leaders and activists will hammer away on the theme that Obama may make nice with business, talk about cutting the deficit and compromise on tax cuts, but this is just a ploy to placate and even deceive Obama critics and opponents into thinking that he has somehow seen the conservative light and has abandoned his liberal, anti-corporate, expand the welfare state goal. Cheney essentially played on that theme in his politically laced one-term presidency prediction.
But Cheney and other GOP leaders would have continued to harp on that no matter how many GOP friendly compromises Obama made or will make. The one-term presidency line would be repeatedly bandied about no matter what Democrat sat in the Oval Office. Obama was deemed especially ripe for the GOP pickings because he was African American, and at least in the early going of his administration, the GOP prayer was that he would say and do something that would fan the racial fires, and give the GOP the chance to fully play the race card, and paint him as a closet racial panderer. The next best thing to that was the tag of closet Marxist and communist. This ploy has largely petered out. But the one-term line will stay because it has to.
Cheney’s war on Obama is about the GOP regaining power, control, political dominance, protecting its corporate and financial interests, its strict construction definition and enforcement of the laws, and more broadly the imposing of its philosophical view of how government should be run. The presidency is the grand prize that pulls the political, economic and philosophical threads on how government and power will be exercised together for the GOP.
It’s not enough for the GOP to win big in the House and gain valuable ground in the Senate as the party did during the November mid-terms. Senate Democrats will still largely march to the president’s tune and will stymie any of the wilder, way out initiatives and pieces of legislation that the Tea Party influenced House will pass to thumb its nose at, embarrass and weaken the Obama administration.
President Obama also has two more big weapons to bolster his administration and re-election chances. That’s the power of the veto which presidents use strategically and effectively against the other party. The other big weapon is the power of the bully pulpit to shape and mold public opinion, and even turn a crisis into a triumph. Obama’s deft use of that to drive home the message of tolerance, unity and civility was on full display in his Tucson speech and appearance.
As other presidents before him, Obama will continue to hear the politically charged three words, “one-term president” said about him by the GOP attack machine in the run-up to the 2012 presidential elections. It comes with the political turf. Cheney knows that, but that doesn’t make it happening any less of a delusion.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.