Political Animal


January 20, 2013 10:55 AM Immigration reform? Gun control? What can we realistically expect from Obama’s second term, anyway?

By Kathleen Geier

This is good news: today on CNN’s State of the Union, one of Obama’s top advisers, David Plouffe, said he thinks there’s “‘no reason’ immigration reform shouldn’t move through Congress this year.” He’s also optimistic about passing gun control, but thinks it may take longer.

This points to an interesting question: how much can we expect from an Obama administration in the second term? Conventional wisdom holds that re-elected presidents face the prospect of a second term curse and usually cannot get much done.

But Paul Light, the scholar who has written the standard work on presidential agenda-setting, has argued that in fact, the best time for an administration to pursue its most ambitious proposals is at the beginning of the second term. The start of the new term, Light says, is when presidential capital tends to be at its peak. By that time, the president has spent enough time in the office to become good at the job, to learn how to move legislation through Congress, etc. At the same time, the president’s effectiveness hasn’t yet been weakened by mid-term elections or lame-duck status.

I thought Obama’s one real shot at passing big, important reforms would be his first year, and certainly, with the ACA, he achieved that. But who knows, he may be able to get more done in the second term than many of us had thought. It does bother me that we are not hearing a peep from the administration about climate change legislation or labor law reform. Realistically, though, legislation addressing those issues, and many others that are also extremely important, don’t have a prayer of passing in the Republican House. But change on immigration and guns may be in the works, and would be very welcome indeed.

Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She blogs at Inequality Matters. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee


  • c u n d gulag on January 20, 2013 12:33 PM:

    Who knows what will pass, or won't?
    Or, what will happen?

    The only thing we can count on, is the pure hatred and vitriol coming from Conservatives for at least two more years, and probably, all four.

    If they can stop something for the public good - they will.
    If they can make the Democrats look bad, or embarass them - that's good.
    If they can make President Obama look bad, or embarass him - that's better!

    And, if the economy tanks, or there's another massive terrorist attack in this country - THAT'S PRICELESS!!!

  • jjm on January 20, 2013 12:49 PM:

    Well, since Obama actually did do some of the very heaviest lifting in his first term (e.g., health care reform --- remember him saying he would try to accomplish his goals, even they made him a 'one term president'?) he can now work on other very important matters, but with a real wind at his back.

    The idea of transforming his formidable campaign apparatus into a mechanism for getting the issues directly before the public, rather than being filtered through often conservative and spiteful beltway media is both innovative and may well prove massively effective in marshaling public support for his agenda.

  • c u n d gulag on January 20, 2013 1:46 PM:

    And others,
    Sort of on this tope, here's a great piece by John Dickerson, that I'm sure will no only raise some hackles, but will have Republicans excreting bile and noxious odors from every orifice:

    I hope Dickerson, who I don't alway agree with, can survive the tsunami of BS that will be hurled his way from Conservatives.

    If not, I hope Norm Ornstein and Thomas Mann have some room for him at the table in the lonely and secluded corner by the kitchen door of DC, that is the place where those who break the "Both Sides Do It!" meme, are relegated to.

  • SecularAnimist on January 20, 2013 1:59 PM:

    We can muddle along indefinitely without immigration reform, or better gun control laws. We can make modest incremental improvements if we're not able to accomplish the major changes that are really needed (as happened with health care in Obama's first term). Sure, lots of people will suffer and die unnecessarily, but it won't be the end of the world.

    We CANNOT muddle along indefinitely burning fossil fuels and emitting greenhouse gases and heating up the Earth. If we don't solve the global warming problem, very soon -- and passing major climate/energy legislation is an essential part of the solution -- then it very literally WILL be the end of the world.

    It's unbelievable to me, every time I read one of these columns and see climate change legislation barely mentioned, near the end, almost as an afterthought, a third or fourth-place priority, with a sigh and a shrug and a dismissive comment that oh well, everybody knows THAT'S not going to happen.

    Global warming a freaking existential threat to the nation, to human civilization, and to the human species, folks. Get real.

  • Mimikatz on January 20, 2013 2:12 PM:

    C u n d: that Dickerson article is really good. Thanks for the link. I hope Obama does take a more confrontational approach. Isolating the GOP is what I'd hoped he would do in his first term, but I guess he wanted to try bipartisanship first and/or needed an even weaker, more deluded GOP first.

    I think his hand will be forced on climate change, if the changes continue to accelerate, as they are now doing. As we draw into the 2016 election we may very well be facing permanent drought in parts of the Southwest and lower plains states, a nearly ice-free Arctic in the summer, and a succession of storms worse than Sandy. People will be willing to listen at that point to strategies for serious change.

  • c u n d gulag on January 20, 2013 2:14 PM:

    Secular Animist,
    Conservatives would tell you to get over it, you DFH, you!

    "Earth Day," was SOOOOOO 40+ years ago!

    And then, "The Free Markets" spoke!
    All blessings be upon "The Free Markets."

    Btw - I don't get it either.
    We spent the first 30 plus years of my life worrying about an existential threat like nuclear annihilation, and now, with global environmental annihilation staring us in our faces, we say, "Oh, it's a hoax!", or, "It'll cost jobs!"

    The planet doesn't owe us anything. Frankly, it doesn't give a sh*t whether we're here, or not.
    Oh, and note to Jesus-freaks: No, God did NOT give us his okey-dokey to 'have dominion' to trash this planet like it was a garbage dump. From what I remember reading, we were supposed to take care of the gifts that God (whom I don't believe in) gave us.

    My hope is that, in a few tens or hundreds of millions of years, that cockroaches or rodents will evolve, and come up with a much more "humane" and environmentally friendly society.

  • Davis X. Machina on January 20, 2013 3:08 PM:

    What we can realistically expect is another four years of carping, because whatever it is that's accomplished, it won't, on a hundred blogs, be enough.

  • Richard W. Crews on January 20, 2013 5:27 PM:

    I was, and will be, for Hillary because I thought she would fight the enemy with more vigor. The enemy = Republicans. (Both Obama and Hillary are more hawkish against Al-Queda than the Reps.)
    I think President Obama should be very clear and vocal this term - even wen losing. And pick some fights that he may lose, just to clarify and martial forces.
    The Democrats have history and demographics on our side; you might even say the momentum of our philosophy.
    Awareness is our ally. Even losing will prove to be a good thing if we make it loud and clear.

  • Rick B on January 20, 2013 5:30 PM:

    @cund & @ mimikatz
    I very much agree with both of you. That Dickerson article is quite good.

    I've been hoping that Obama is going to go after the Republicans controlling state governments and redistricting. The danger is clear when you see they immorally control the House with a minority of votes.

    It is my opinion that the conservative party of America is the single greatest existential threat faced by America today. One major element of the problem is the Federalist Society. It needs to be treated like the Communist Party or the KKK when granting security clearances. This organization is just one major threat to America. The lack of a reasonable inheritance tax to prevent the development of an American aristocracy is also a major problem, one well-demonstrated by the conservatives and examples like the Koch brothers.

    But if Obama does go after the Republicans I think he will use the same system he has been since getting elected. He will not announce who his enemies are. He will simply delegitimize them. He will not directly use the media as one of his primary tools because the media as currently operated is itself such a massive part of the threat to America. Without fairness and a truth orientation the media is unamerican.

    Obama's shift to an organization that does not disclose donors is a start. And who knows what the Obama ground organization is going to morph into? I really think that if Obama is going to go after the Republican Party as Dickerson describes then we will see a lot of the results after the 2014 elections. The structure setting those elections up will not appear in the media.

    I'd like to see Margaret Atwood write the novelization of the battle to come.