Two words: tunnel vision. Last week, I argued that by attacking President Obama viciously on chained CPI, the self-important Left was missing the forest for the trees, given Barack Obama's vast expansion of the social safety net. Today, I am going to lay out the tunnel vision of the armchair activists' political acumen. What they are missing is the comprehensive political dynamic that will be at play in 2014. Four major factors will influence 2014: the first three are being referred to as B.I.G. in the political press: budget battle, immigration reform, and gun safety. The fourth, and perhaps the most potent weapon for Democrats is Obamacare, which will be in full effect in 2014.
So for a minute, let's also talk about the issues other than the budget fight that will have a profound impact in 2014. For the first time in a long time, the issue of gun safety isn't going away, and the Democrats and the president seem poised to win a big victory for the American people when it comes to guns. In the last week alone, bipartisan groups of senators have announced agreements on expanding background checks to gun shows, as on gun trafficking. Not only have they reached agreement, the background check bill has even overcome a filibuster attempt.
These measures may seem incremental, and measures like a ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines still face an uncertain future, but the agreements are indicative of a tectonic shift in politics. The NRA is no longer the only game in town when it comes to policies governing the possession of deadly weapons. The families of victims and organized, well-funded gun safety advocates are having an impact. With the NRA's dismal record in the last election exposed, gun safety groups are poised to play a major role in the next election.
On the president's domestic agenda this year, comprehensive immigration reform ranks at the top. The Republicans have already conceded this issue, realizing after the 2012 elections that getting 60% of the white vote still couldn't win them the White House. Things are moving on that front too, with a framework agreement already reached and a bipartisan bill on it is likely to be introduced as soon as this week. In fact, Marco Rubio just admitted on ABC's This Week that the agreement includes a pathway to citizenship.
If - scratch that - when this bill passes and President Obama signs it into law, this will be his biggest achievement next to health care reform. And when that happens, which party do you think it will benefit? The Republicans put themselves in this bind with their racist, anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric. Immigration reform is a threshold issue for Hispanic and other Americans who care about immigration reform to even look at the GOP, not a vote turner for them. But the achievement, after Republican stonewalling will be a crowning one for the Democrats and the president. It will bring more minority and young voters to the polls in 2014, and guess which party they will vote for.
The president's budget is as much a statement of policy compromise for the president as a political trap for the Republicans, as the astute Jonathan Alter has observed in his column in Bloomberg.
The chained CPI offer in the budget battle is but a small part of one of the president's budget proposal. Even so, it alone is causing a level of hysteria among the Republican ranks. The GOP demanded chained CPI, hoping to corner the president, thinking he'd never call their bluff. Well, he did. And now, on the one hand, Republicans who oppose chained CPI are getting primary threats and on the other, Boehner is left praising Obama for including it in his budget. Given that there is no Republican consensus on rejecting chained CPI, there are only two ways out of this for the Republicans: they either support chained CPI and give the president tax increases to couple with it, or argue why we should have chained CPI without any tax increases for the rich. In either of the cases, Republicans cannot mount an effective attack against Democrats for giving them a 'Yes' for an answer.
If the Republicans accept some form of Chained-CPI-Tax-Increases solution, they cannot make their attacks stick against Democrats. If they don't, no one will believe they are serious about actually doing anything about entitlement reform. The president has set a trap here, and it was set after the Republicans already set their foot in it.
With respect to the whole budget, the president has set up a political win for Democrats, if only the Left's prognosticators could realize it. The Republicans either agree to some framework of taxes in exchange for the modest adjustments to entitlements, or Democrats get to point to their lack of seriousness when they try to talk about it in 2014 and try to run on how Democrats have offered no entitlement reforms.
ObamaCare is coming!
I have mentioned this here before, but I do not believe one can overstate the importance of ObamaCare as a factor in the 2014 elections. To be fair, those who have been following the news and those who have been affected know that a lot of the benefits of the Affordable Care Act are already positively impacting lives. Seniors are saving billions on prescription drugs, millions of young adults now have coverage, insurance companies can no longer drop you when you get sick, and lifetime limits have been banished.
In 2012, ObamaCare already lost its lust as a election hammering tool for the Republicans. They tried and failed miserably. But in 2014, when the health insurance exchanges open and nearly every American has the assurance of affordable coverage and the guarantee that being diagnosed with a chronic illness won't mean losing the house to the hospital, the tables will have completely turned. It will be interesting to see just which Republicans want to tell their constituents that they want to run against the real ObamaCare, rather than the caricature version of it. Democrats, on the other hand, will be able to go on the offensive on health care reform, proudly claim it, and point to Republicans as the pariahs that tried to stop it from happening.
... And then there is the coming backlash against the 2010 Republicans in states.
Politically, there will also be another potentially debilitating factor for the Republicans in the midterms. All the far Right wingbats the Teabagger movement swept into state houses in 2010 will have a reckoning with their voters. Unlike 2010, the midterms next year will not be a racist backlash against a black president combined with conservative turnout and liberal apathy. It will be the day of reckoning for the politicians who ushered in the era of government sponsored rape for women seeking to exercise their Constitutional right to an abortion, for "Papers, please" laws against brown people, and the budget squeeze on the backs of the poor lead by the 2010 batch of Tea Party backed state leaders.
Conclusion: Barack Obama is no one's fool.
It's not as though this all happened by accident. It isn't as though Barack Obama, quite likely the contemporary world's most talented organizer, did not see this coming. In fact, he set most of it up. He called the Republicans' bluff on entitlements. He knows that Republicans have no choice but to give the American people a big victory on immigration reform. He knew full well the risks in 2010 of pushing through health reform, but also the policy as well as political benefits of it in the ensuing years. And he is one president that, since Sandy Hook, has relentlessly pushed for gun reforms, worked with gun safety groups, and helped them make opposing gun safety a political liability. He knows that people in purple states are horrified by their local GOP's wars against women, organized workers, voting rights, gays and ethnic minorities.
Barack Obama is no one's fool, and the political dynamics of 2014 are fundamentally different from 2010. As Jon Alter said in his piece on Bloomberg, contrary to common wisdom in Washington, on many issues gridlock is collapsing. The more the gridlock collapses, the better for the party of governing, the Democratic party, and for this country.
Barack Obama knows full well - and you should too - that 2014 will be affected by big issues and big accomplishments for the president. It won't be just about a method of calculating inflation adjustments to Social Security. The people will be voting on a comprehensive understanding of all of these factors and how their values align with it. To view the 2014 election through the narrow lens of a small part of one policy is to have a pretty bad case of tunnel vision. The political fears of the cowering Left about chained CPI are either manufactured or plain dumb. And for people who accuse the president of being politically short-sighted, those making the political fallout argument against chained CPI don't seem to be able to see anything beyond the craze of the day.
Think about it. It shouldn't be too far a stretch to think that the man who rose from state senator to the President of the United States in 4 years' time might have a point or two over the hysterical wannabes. It shouldn't be a big leap to believe that the man who got bigger reforms done in DC in his first four years than most presidents have in two terms knows a thing or two about the legislative process. It shouldn't be too difficult to understand that Barack Obama didn't get to where he is, and hasn't accomplished what he has, without a plan.