“These are nice,” the president said. Then he paused. “These may be second-term socks.”
A joke, but as Freud would say . . .
Is there a flamboyant Obama yearning to be liberated? Does he have wild second-term hosiery stuffed in the back of the presidential sock drawer, waiting for the proper moment to be safely unveiled?
I hope so.
Republican nominee-in-waiting Mitt Romney portrays the president as self-activated Manchurian Candidate, biding time before springing his diabolical plans on the American people.
But if anything, a second Obama term promises to be conservative, in the technical sense — conserving the achievements of the first term, health care most of all, and protecting them from Republican dismantling. Indeed, to listen to Obama, the argument for reelection is as much about avoiding that U-turn as about charting the path ahead.
There are a few obvious now-we-can-finally-do-it items for a second term. At the top of the list: completing the president’s pathetically slow evolution on same-sex marriage.
But for the most part, Obama’s agenda for the second term is disappointingly unspecific. That may be a problem common to reelection campaigns. Recall Bill Clinton’s 1996 combination of small-bore ideas and airy rhetorical bridges to the 21st century.
Meanwhile, the president who runs, or claims to have run, on a specific platform risks over-interpreting the election results. Recall George W. Bush a couple days after his 2004 reelection. “I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it,” Bush said, citing Social Security and tax reform at the top of his to-do list. The capital turned out to be inadequate to either task.
For Obama, the shape of a second term, if he wins one, is likely to be defined early on — even before the inauguration. The Bush tax cuts will expire. The debt ceiling will again need to be raised. The sequester of defense and domestic spending — the result of the supercommittee’s failure to find a rational alternative — will finally take effect.
A responsible presidential campaign would focus on this coming “taxmageddon” and feature competing, detailed solutions. Instead, we’re left with Obama touting the Buffett rule (an inadequate answer) vs. Romney peddling no-pain tax reform (all specific rate cuts, no specified pain).
Speaking to Rolling Stone, Obama seemed to hitch his second-term prospects to the notion that the election results will liberate him by liberating Republicans.
“My hope is that if the American people send a message to them . . . that it might break the fever,” he said. “My hope is that after this next election, they’ll feel a little more liberated” from the thrall of Rush Limbaugh and Grover Norquist.
Certainly, the president has lacked rational partners across the aisle. But I wonder how much one election can change — especially when both sides duck the painful choices ahead.
Maybe, if you want to wear the second-term socks, you’ve got to be willing to show a little leg.
— Ruth Marcus