Power Play

Emboldened Obama Sets Stage for Nasty Fights Ahead

Eric Yaverbaum and Ed Pozzuoli debate the president's second term strategy


“We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit. But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future.”

-- President Obama in his second inaugural address.

We did not hear much from President Obama in his second inaugural address that we haven’t heard from him before on the campaign trail, but there was much significance in the setting.

Obama chose the most-watched moment of his new term to affirm to his political base that he would be the president he promised to be if they delivered a second term for him.


Some on the left complain that he did not reject or even bother to defend his drone-based, kill-listed policy for dealing with Islamist militants. Others thought he could have been even throatier in his calls for government action.

But Obama, echoing his campaign theme and with a couple of jabs at conservatives, made the case for activist, liberal government and liberal orthodoxy on social issues. He chose a venue more associated with calls for unity and an absence of divisive topics to reprise the themes of his campaign, stretching back to his speech in Osawatomie, Kan. in December 2011.

His message to his supporters was that he would no longer let political calculation trump ideology. He would cease to hide his affections for them and for traditional liberalism that he had hushed since his successful primary campaign of 2008. And Obama called for liberal activists to stay in the battle with him as he tries to tear down the center-right core of American politics forged by Ronald Reagan and affirmed by Bill Clinton.

A few conservatives sniffed about Obama’s lack of inclusiveness in the speech and others faulted him for not addressing the economy or expressing any urgency to deal with the ocean of federal red ink.

But sooner or later, Republicans are going to have to come to grips with the fact that Obama means what he says. The complaints about Obama’s sharp elbows, hyper-partisanship and intransigence sounds like mewling. Those on the right and in the center who believe that somehow Obama can be shamed or goaded into moderation have not been paying attention.

Having committed himself to resurrecting the fiscal liberalism of the pre-Reagan era and blazing new trails for social liberalism, Obama is obviously devoted to the idea of transforming American politics – a system his communications director told the Washington Post was “not worthy” of the moment and of Obama’s aims.

The first step in the process of remaking America is to remake politics. And the way to remake politics is to remake the Republican Party, to, as CBS Political Director John Dickerson counseled in a column, “pulverize” his opponents. Obama plans to pursue and divide Republicans now so that what remains is either a Tory-style loyal opposition that agrees with him in principle or a small conservative fringe party incapable of governing.

Obama means to use the first two years of his term exploding the GOP so that he can spend the second two years as the transformational leader he wants to be.

But it does conservatives no good to get the vapors over this declaration of political war. Republicans spend much of the past four years in an all-out assault on Obama, so it hardly will do for them to retire to their fainting couches because the president is trying to repay them in kind.

There are signs that the GOP is wising up and is abandoning umbrage as a weapon along with the hope that for some reason the most liberal president since Lyndon Johnson would want to become a moderate in his second term.

House Republicans gave Obama what he wanted in the year-end fight over taxes. The president not only got the rate hike on top earners that he sought, but Republicans splintered and attacked each other.

Now, as the debt-ceiling fight begins in earnest, House Republicans look ready to get back in the battle with Obama and the Obama Democrats in the Senate instead of fighting amongst themselves.

Today, House Republicans will pass their first significant legislation of the new Congress: a bill to extend the credit limit for debt accrued between now and mid March coupled to a demand that Senate Democrats pass their first budget in four years.

It would be hard for Obama or Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to say no. They may delay, but pushing the nation up to the brink when relief is right at hand would be damaging and reckless to Obama’s other aims.

That sets up the GOP for better bargaining when it comes time in March to fight over funding the government and automatic cuts that were part of the previous debt-limit deal in 2011. Then, with those issues resolved, Republicans could take another whack at the debt limit and look for cuts or the entitlement overhaul Obama on Monday vowed to resist.

The plan here is to keep Obama busy trying to defend current spending and not able to push for new outlays or advance his ambitious social agenda. A numerically inferior force fares poorly in open-field fighting, so Republicans aim to keep Obama in the brambles of short-term spending skirmishes. It buys time and increases the chances of a GOP comeback in midterms.

And if any on the right were resistant to the idea of aiming smaller and playing for survival, Obama’s bold speech on Monday should have convinced that here was a man who was in no mood to back down or compromise.


And Now, A Word From Charles

“This was a declaration that his interest is to restore us to the liberal ascendancy of 60 years, that [Ronald] Reagan stopped. He gave us these three decades and [Bill] Clinton -- in the middle of the three decades -- said in his '96 State of the Union address, the era of big government is over. This speech was a declaration that the era of big government is back, I'm the man to do it. A remarkable speech.”

-- Charles Krauthammer during special inauguration coverage on FOX News.


Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com. Catch Chris Live online daily at 11:30amET  at  http:live.foxnews.com.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily Fox News Halftime Report political news note and co-hosts the hit podcast, Perino & Stirewalt: I'll Tell You What. He also is the host of Power Play, a feature video series on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on network programs, including America’s Newsroom, Special Report with Bret Baier and Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. He also provides expert political analysis for FNC’s coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.