Obama’s legacy is in danger

After a defeat in a special election in Florida, dire predictions of Democratic disaster at the polls accelerated among the punditry. Suddenly it was Obamacare which sank Alex Sink at the polls. Although the margin was narrow and in a more Republican than Democratic district, nevertheless the results were seen as signs of impending doom.

Certainly no defeat should go unaddressed and this is not an exception. The enrolling of new insurees on the website still is below expectations. Democrats still advocate improving a bill that has already been passed. This places them in the awkward position of why they passed a law that they were unsure of in the first instance. For Republicans it is fairly easy to shoot down the Democrats logic on the issue.

But it is still March and the full election is in November and it is way too early to speculate on who may win the House or Senate. Unemployment has improved and the Obama roll out of the Affordable Health Care seems to have escaped the bad odor of November’s fiasco. Yet Katherine Sebelius’ announcement that premiums would go up was no boost for Democrats in tougher districts or states.

Noticeably lacking in all this is President Barack Obama, who fails to grasp electoral realities beyond his own immediate political needs. The Democratic party seems reluctant to campaign as a unit and already an “every candidate for themselves” approach is taking hold.

Mary Landrieu and Kay Hagan seem to be engaged in a pick and choose strategy as far as healthcare is concerned. This places them automatically in a defensive position. Better to defend the principles behind Obamacare then to be left grousing over the details. Ask the Republicans whether or not they would defend the old system of spiraling cost and poor healthcare. Certainly no law is perfect, but to nit-pick your own defensive is short-sighted.

For this, Obama must lead. To lead is to take risk and when he is not on the ballot, the President seems reluctant to do so. As Franklin Roosevelt said in 1936, “Better the occasional faults of a government that lives in a spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference.” Not a bad approach for Obama to take. Sometimes it is better to take on opponents directly than relying solely on finesse. Certainly FDR could miss the boat, as he did on the court-packing scheme or the attempted purge of Democrats in 1938, but his instinct usually proved truer than the oppositions.

With Obama, the perils of the sixth year are abundant and obvious, but he needs to re-capture the old magic or risk seeing his presidency effectively ended in November 2014. Instead of posturing on foreign policy, he needs to emphasize the mess the country may have been in if he had not assumed office in 2009. Although he had some foreign policy successes, his strength has always been internal politics. He did stem the crisis of 2008-2009, and he should never stop reminding his opponents that he did.

For Obama’s presidency, everything seems to be at a crossroads. He needs to recapture the old themes and, for better or worse, take it to the Republicans. Otherwise, this presidency will have played out two years before it is supposed to end.