In his inaugural address last month and Tuesday night’s State of the Union address, President Barack Obama signaled much the same, though the 44th president is taking the show-don’t-tell approach.
Without stating the obvious — a majority of American voters in 2012 favored Obama’s progressive ideas over Mitt Romney’s conservative ones — the president aims to spend the political capital he’s earned. The era of modern conservatism — with a calamitous mixture of weak regulation and tax cuts favoring the wealth — is over, Obama indicated Tuesday. His State of the Union wish list included an increase in the minimum wage, proposals to battle the dangers of climate change, reforming of the nation’s immigration policies, support of gay rights and passage of gun-control laws.
On that last item, the president laid down a challenge. Congress has a role in these ambitions. Since Obama took office in 2009, the Senate and the House of Representatives have been models of inefficiency. Republicans have been in lockstep opposition to every big proposal Obama favored. Worse than that, they’ve employed penny-ante parliamentary tricks to deny many of the president’s bills and personnel appointments an honest up-or-down vote. (Seriously, would any Fortune 500 company allow such dysfunction to persist?)
The National Rifle Association spent good money procuring the members of Congress in its camp, and those lawmakers likely will employ every trick in the book to keep gun-control bills from seeing the light of day, especially ones the overwhelming majority of Americans support.
In anticipation of this, Obama said Tuesday each of his gun-control “proposals deserves a vote in Congress. If you want to vote no, that’s your choice. But these proposals deserve a vote. Because in the two months since Newtown, more than a thousand birthdays, graduations and anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun.”
Powerful stuff, as was the president’s economic argument that, "It is our unfinished task to restore the basic bargain that built this country — the idea that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead, no matter where you come from, what you look like, or who you love.”
After four years in office, Obama has surely learned that soaring rhetoric alone won’t accomplish his goals. He’ll have to bargain with his loyal opposition, an exercise that all too often devolved into belligerence and talking past one another during the president’s first term. That won’t do. The issues facing the nation are too important. Otherwise, Obama’s second-term capital will be squandered.