Beware Obama’s Big Ideas

The president and his fans say the best is yet to come. That can’t be good.

The way President Barack Obama’s acolytes are calling for bold action in his second term, you’d think he had been some kind of prudent Calvin Coolidge in his first. 

“A strategic second term would begin by identifying a list of necessary and achievable goals, and then pursuing them with the unyielding manipulative skill of a Lyndon Johnson,” Washington Post columnist David Ignatius wrote after Obama’s decisive victory over hapless challenger Mitt Romney in November. “Think big. Take risks. Get it done.”

“Take this second chance to get it right on housing,” wrote Tracy Van Slyke, director of something called the New Bottom Line, at The Huffington Post, “and use your mandate to help the millions of underwater homeowners across this country.” Atlantic Associate Editor Matthew O’Brien didn’t even wait for the election results to come in, calling on the president in October to unveil a bold second-term agenda that would embrace the “vision thing” by resurrecting his deep-sixed American Jobs Act. 

Given that Obama won re-election largely by not talking about his record, it’s probably not surprising that so many people don’t seem to have noticed what happened from 2009 through 2012. To recap, Obama rammed through a massive overhaul of medical care in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. ObamaCare. He piled another $830 billion or so onto the national debt with his American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a.k.a. the stimulus. He also managed to push total debt over $16 trillion. 

When the Affordable Care Act’s most radical component, the requirement that every American be forced to purchase health insurance, came up for Supreme Court review, the president’s bumbling attorneys lucked into a tortured decision in their favor, and the law was upheld by a 5-to-4 margin. Capitalizing on (though not actually solving) the financial crisis that helped him gain office, Obama in 2010 signed the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, bringing a massive new cudgel to the financial industry (which had hardly been free of Washington oversight and protection prior to that) and creating a federal “consumer” agency whose scope is still not well understood. 

Unfazed by a public rebuke in the 2010 midterm elections, Obama continued his mission through a daunting new strategy of regulatory rule making, executive orders, administration through “White House liaison officers,” and recess appointments of congressionally unpopular nominees. (These last have been carried out even when Congress was not in recess.) Such tactics are necessary to patch a weakness Obama has discovered in American government: the foundational structure of checks and balances.

“When Congress refuses to act, and as a result, hurts our economy and puts our people at risk, then I have an obligation as president to do what I can without them,” the president told a crowd in Shaker Heights, Ohio, in January 2011. “I’ve got an obligation to act on behalf of the American people. And I’m not going to stand by while a minority in the Senate puts party ideology ahead of the people that we were elected to serve. Not with so much at stake, not at this make-or-break moment for middle-class Americans. We’re not going to let that happen.”

Following that bold conviction, Obama launched a war in Libya without even the almost-constitutional fig leaf of a congressional authorization vote (thus making him even less deferential to Congress’ war-making power than George W. Bush). This “kinetic action” seemed to be a rousing success until the U.S. ambassador was killed by terrorists in September—an episode the administration has worked tirelessly to obscure. 

Obama has also claimed powers of life and death beyond Bush’s wildest ambitions, granting to himself a new presidential authority to kill citizens and noncitizens alike, both on U.S. soil and abroad, while asserting that an Oval Office discussion with advisers qualifies as constitutional due process. 

After all that, what would Obama fans consider an ambitious second-term agenda? I guess mandatory self-esteem boosts, universal health care for cats, and a global war on melancholy haven’t been tried yet. But Obama’s penchant for intervening in all aspects of American life (according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, he added 11,327 pages to the Code of Federal Regulations, a 7.4 percent increase, in his first three years) while overlooking constitutional niceties has produced a consistent pattern: As you get more regulation, you get less law. 

For some of us, this is a problem. Law is big and clear. It applies equally to the great and small. You can usually be confident that a law has passed at least some level of civic scrutiny. Regulation, by contrast, is small and stifling. It places burdens primarily on individuals and small companies that don’t have sufficient lawyerly infrastructure. 

And there’s no way to know which White House czar or career apparatchik composed any particular regulation. For example, who at Eric Holder’s Department of Justice (DOJ) decided in 2011 that the Americans with Disabilities Act requires hotels, restaurants, and airlines to accommodate “pygmy ponies” as service animals. (And should we be glad the DOJ is mandating horse fairness instead of giving more guns to Mexican drug cartels?)

“The best is yet to come,” Obama promised in his November victory speech. And the election result gave him some justification for that promise. He won a lopsided electoral victory and, rare in modern presidential races, a popular majority. This is what makes the second term such a matter of concern.

Nearly 61 million voters have gotten to know Obama’s mix of soaring rhetoric and bureaucratic reality, messianic claims and crushing mandates, cultish iconography and lawless actions, grand hopes and bland changes. And they decided they wanted more of it. 

I don’t expect that avoiding the “fiscal cliff” will be reward enough for those folks. Obama came into office with talk of reversing the tides, healing the earth, and “fundamentally transforming the United States of America.” He has hinted at delivering big things in the security of a second term. If the first act was any indication, those things are going to suck.  

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  • ||

    Nearly 61 million voters have gotten to know Obama’s mix ...

    There you go Timmy, assuming that they were paying attention

  • Whiterun Guard||

    I think at least a few of them are paying attention after their paychecks from the last two weeks. Suckers.

    Also a few more who do the quarterly thing will perk up their ears in March.

  • Rich||

    Obama's mix

    RACIST!

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    I guess mandatory self-esteem boosts, universal health care for cats, and a global war on melancholy haven’t been tried yet.

    Tim Whovanaugh?

    Let's face it, Obama sees no problem that doesn't have a government solution. He's going to fix everything from Washington even if he doesn't have time or wherewithal to understand the nature of all of those problems. People are going to be happy they have those hated House Republicans, feckless and self-serving as they may be.

  • Bob_R||

    We'll see, but second terms following vacuous campaigns don't have a history of success. Reagan campaigned on "morning in American," and he succeeded in letting the sun come up in his second term. If history is any guide Obama will be allowed to kill Bin Laden again.

  • ||

    Obama will be allowed to kill Bin Laden again

    Oh God, not another crappy remake. Didn't anyone learn anything from Total Recall?

  • Whiterun Guard||

    No, THIS time they've got everything right.

    I mean it wasn't until the Warren Beatty re-make that they got that chick movie done properly.

  • Ted S.||

    I'll have you know Here Comes Mr. Jordan is better than the Warren Beatty remake.

  • Whiterun Guard||

    The Warren Beatty one has him playing professional football. It is unbeatable. But since I've seen that movie, it is, by definition, not a chick movie.

    I was talking about, uh, Love Story or Ice Castles or some crap. Ask IFH or nicole, they'll know.

  • Ted S.||

    The original has James Gleason, who is so good he can make Judy Garland movies worth watching.

  • Whiterun Guard||

    Oh look another Obama puff piece from the Cosmotarian in Chief.

  • Rich||

    Obama’s mix of soaring rhetoric and bureaucratic reality, messianic claims and crushing mandates, cultish iconography and lawless actions, grand hopes and bland changes.

    Nice. Gotta take the bad with the egregious, I suppose.

  • LTC(ret) John||

    "Gotta take the bad with the egregious"

    Ah, there is a motto for the next 2-4 years!

  • eyeroller||

    And they decided they wanted more of it.

    I think many of them were scared that Romney would be even worse.

    Too bad the faithful journalistas didn't give a little time to Gary Johnson.

  • radar||

    hahahaha, this brings to mind Sparky Griswold in Christmas Vacation: "Worse? How could things get any worse?? Take a look around you, Ellen - we're at the threshold of hell!"

    I used to think GWB was the nadir. I was wrong. Obama makes him look like fucking Calvin Coolidge.

  • Kyfho Myoba||

    I tho't with Clinton that we couldn't possibly get any worse. Then we got GWB. OK. THIS is the worst. Can't get any worse. No way. Medicare part D, Iraq, Afghanistan. This is it. The bottom. Now with Obozo, I've learned my lesson. It WILL get worse. I have no idea how, but it will. The Cryptocracy is on a roll. They've been at this longer than I have, they'll figure out a way.

  • Robert||

    Typical exaggeration by pundits. Not of Obama's record, but of the significance of his re-election.

    He was the incumbent, and practically the only way to turn out an incumbent chief executive is to beat him with a nominee from the other major party. And to reject Obama, voters would've had to practically repudiate his ideas by adopting their exact opposite, which is an extreme position to take too. There's a great deal of hysteresis in politics.

  • MacKlingon||

    I am watching the Prez right now, he is presently asking congress to give him the authority to raise the debt ceiling. He is also claming that he has cut spending and is reducing the national debt.
    How can anyone believe this guy?

  • Loki||

    He is also claming that he has cut spending and is reducing the national debt.

    Mind. Blown. This guy clearly lives in a Bizzaro World like alternate reality. Completely disconnected from reality. As are most of his supporters. I don't see how he can really believe his own bullshit.

  • Libertarius||

    That is the definition of a neurotic.

    And I am sick to gd death of seeing that creepy fascist O symbol.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    Well, not really. Imagine you had a couple that had been overspending normally for a good long while. Then, one year, their daughter gets married. They go full out for the grand poobah $150 grand shindig. Then, the next year, rather than going back to their old level of overspending, they blow an extra $125 grand on vacations and parties. Why, don't you see? They cut their spending by $25 grand. Their regular misers.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    That should be "They're regular misers."

  • ||

    ..Obama’s decisive victory over hapless challenger Mitt Romney in November.

    Only if you consider well below average to be decisive. Obama's popular margin of victory only beat 13 out of 47 others since the popular vote began being recorded.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    “When Congress refuses to act, and as a result, hurts our economy and puts our people at risk, then I have an obligation as president to do what I can without them,” the president told a crowd in Shaker Heights, Ohio, in January 2011. “I’ve got an obligation to act on behalf of the American people. And I’m not going to stand by while a minority in the Senate puts party ideology ahead of the people that we were elected to serve. Not with so much at stake, not at this make-or-break moment for middle-class Americans. We’re not going to let that happen.”

    Great. Now my mustache smells like barf.

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  • warmood||

    She added: 'For me, doing swim, it's the best part of being a Victoria's Secret Angel
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