Will Obama be a more effective progressive in his second term?

Kerry Eleveld, a freelance writer and former White House correspondent for the Advocate, argues in the The Atlantic that President Obama “will be a more effective liberal in his second term.”  Kerry is a good writer, and thinker.  Her argument merits some discussion.

First, from Kerry:

It wasn’t until Republicans took over the House in 2011, Grunwald asserts, that Obama embraced an outsider strategy, using his bully pulpit to highlight GOP obstructionism on legislation like the American Jobs Act.

But Obama’s newly aggressive use of executive authority and efforts to persuade were not merely tactical measures of last resort. As the president repeatedly deployed his power over the last two years, he simultaneously developed a growing comfort with the fact that progressive policy turned out to be good politics. And as the president evolved, the White House evolved with him. The more centrist of his top advisers — such as Rahm Emanuel — became external allies, while Valerie Jarrett and first lady Michelle Obama grew in influence on the inside.

Today, there’s a strong case to be made that Obama’s second term will feature a chief executive who uses both an inside and an outside game to advance progressive ideals.

I don’t know. The President did take a more outsider strategy as two things happened: 1) As Kerry notes, progressives on the outside, especially gay and immigration activists, pushed him, publicly and loudly; and 2) The Republicans showed the President their true nature and he was sincerely surprised by what he saw.

I’ll come back to that in a moment.  More from Kerry:

In response to their initial disappointment with the president’s early performance, many progressives speculated that Obama was just waiting for a second term to be more liberal.

A more likely explanation is that Obama was still finding his groove, figuring out which levers worked best for him in the context of governing the nation. And in some ways, he was still developing the courage of his convictions.

I think naive progressives thought the President was putting off the “good liberal stuff” for a second term. The rest of us felt, worried, that he simply wasn’t a fighter, even for things he claimed to believe in.  And I think that changed in the last two years, as Kerry notes.  The President was willing to take bold stands, on gay rights and immigration especially, at first because of pressure from key electoral constituencies, but also, again as Kerry notes, because he started to realize that the issues were political winners in and of themselves.

Now, those two issues were winners because both gays and Latinos have the money and the PR savvy (us), and the votes (them), to make elections quite painful for those who cross us.  And we finally made that clear by being willing to wield our power.  To some degree, the President put his future neck out for present gains – win gay and latino support now for a possible headache later when the American people say “WTF?”

But then a funny thing happened.  Not only did the President win the gay and latino vote, but the rest of the country didn’t seem to mind (including African-American voters with specific regard to the President’s stance on gay marriage) that he’d embraced two supposedly “third rail” issues that in the end didn’t have all that much juice after all.

The question remains as to what lessons the President took away from both experiences.

On one hand, it’s possible for the President and his advisers to argue that he had no choice but to act on both issues, because both constituencies were ticked and their ire was endangering his re-election prospects.  And it’s also possible for them to compartmentalize both gay rights and immigration in the “we got lucky” category – lucky that Americans didn’t get ticked at the President’s liberal advocacy on those issues.

But one hopes, as Kerry writes, that something else happened too. That the President experienced the power of the presidency first-hand, liked it, and saw the good that that such power can accomplish when: A) wielded; and B) wielded well.  And he also learned exactly who his opponents really are, and what they’re capable of doing.

So I do think the President will more effectively wield power in the second term.  Whether he’ll be more liberal/progressive, and fight any innate urges to move to the middle (or the middle of the right), depends not just on how effective he is, it also depends on who he is.  Who he really is, and what he truly believes.

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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35 Responses to “Will Obama be a more effective progressive in his second term?”

  1. rayhigh says:

    Of course he won’t! Obama is a right-wing jerk who wants to shove drones up all our asses! He’s just a shill for the corporatocracy – with a tan.

  2. lynchie says:

    I agree on Kerry. He brings 1980 solutions and because he has been around since Christ was a cowboy does not make him qualified for either position. How about Colin Powell, he knows he was played by Rice, Rummy, Cheney and the dumb fuck.

  3. ronbo says:

    Oh, there is a diguise. Close your eyes and listen to his carefully selected words. Then open your eyes to see a black man. Most people can’t read between the lines and who’d suspect a minority to be a full-bore Republican? Joe Lieberman chose his minion carefully and with great success: after 4 years of “bush III” most people still can’t see through the disguises.

  4. A reader in Colorado says:


    What does this even mean?

    WHO CARES? WE’LL FIND OUT. All we need to do is see WTF he actually does.

    And why are you doing this? Trotting out this trope? This isn’t 2009, with Obama, inscrutable opiod of the change seeking masses.

    This is 2012. We’re not going to wait 4 years, until the end of his second term, to be confused by, and to analyze, his triangulating ass. The thing that classes him is the first f*cking thing he does. This isn’t where we watch moves one through 20 to figure out if he’s playing eleventy dimensional chess.

    Playing this game a second time is really dumb.

  5. BeccaM says:

    Humor break:


    Opposed to marriage equality? Okay then, gay men threaten to marry straight men’s girlfriends. (Quite funny, really). (H/t to my wife.)

  6. Adam says:

    I’m dubious of the whole “trust me” thing. I recall in 2008 when a ton of people over at OpenLeft.com were telling us, don’t worry, Obama just has to say these centrist things and hold these centrist positions because if he doesn’t, the nation won’t elect a black Senator with little experience and the middle name Hussein, or something. And Matt and Chris said, here’s an idea, maybe you should take him at his word and he really is a centrist technocrat. Lo and behold, he was cautious and plodding and either never came around or outright sold people out on several issues in his first term (net neutrality, public option, Bush tax cuts, gays on executive order concerning workplace discrimination. Of some of the prominent issues on which he came around or stood firm (marriage equality, whether or not to defend DOMA, deportation re DREAMers), as John says, he was pressured and his team realized it was winning in terms of the politics.

    So I think John’s right that much of this depends on who the President is and how much the organized left has its (our) ballgame together and that’s the answer to Kerry’s question. I read today on HuffPo that the President told a private group of union and left org leaders he absolutely will not cave on tax cuts for the wealthy when it come to fiscal cliff. I have little doubt in my mind that at least 3 of those attendees leaked this news like a sieve to HuffPo just to make sure of that.

  7. tsuki says:

    I look for the Third Way and the Grand Betrayal to be the pillars of his second term. Gotta get those 250K Wall Street speaking engagements in 2016. I am not a fan.

  8. Indigo says:

    Because, first of all, equal rights for gays is not really an “outsider” issue. It’s a human rights issue, period. And secondly of all, if you think Rahm Emmanuel is a centrist, you’re so far divorced from reality that your statements are just more Obamacratic jabberwocky.

  9. Indigo says:

    Because, first of all, equal rights for gays is not really an “outsider” issue. It’s a human rights issue, period. And secondly of all, if you think Rahm Emmanuel is a centrist, you’re so far divorced from reality that your statements are just more Obamacratic jabberwocky.

  10. Indigo says:

    I doubt that. I doubt that very much. A Blue Dog is a Blue Dog is a Blue Dog.

  11. Indigo says:

    I doubt that. I doubt that very much. A Blue Dog is a Blue Dog is a Blue Dog.

  12. BeccaM says:

    Ah, the power of wishful thinking and Tinkerbell politics. It really is as simple as this:

    1. Obama runs as a progressive-populist candidate, because he knows that is what will get the Democratic base out and fired up to support him. He did this as an Illinois state Senator, then as a U.S. Senator, and finally as a Presidential candidate x2.

    2. Once in office, he reverts to form, which is to govern as a center-right neo-liberal semi-conservative. His positions are to protect the existing power structures, encourage the corporatists to continue their parasitic Capitalism practices, and to continue the unraveling of every major Democratic social program enacted since FDR. He also did this as state Senator, U.S. Senator, and President.

    I mean, c’mon, just yesterday we were talking about the leaked ‘Grand Bargain’ memo with its deep, deep cuts in Social Security, Medicare (including raising the eligibility age), cuts in Tricare, cuts in military and civilian pensions, cuts in Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac (which likely means fewer mortgages available for low-income borrowers), and cuts in Pell grants. Moreover, Obama talked big during the election about rejecting defense projects the military doesn’t want — but his budget still goes up on defense spending.

    It’s not what Obama says, it’s what he does. And his track record of actually doing stuff to support all the progressive things he says he believes in isn’t that great. This isn’t to say he’ll stand in the way once other people do the heavy lifting (although on DADT, he most certainly did make it a whole lot harder and the result less anti-discriminatory than it could have been) — but let’s take something simple as a bellweather: The Executive Order barring discrimination by federal contractors against LGBT Americans. It’s been on his desk since January 2009. He’s got nothing to lose by signing it. So why hasn’t it been?

    My point is he could have been a more effective progressive in his first term, but chose not to do so. I’ll go ahead and put my marker down now on endless comparisons being made between the 2010 and 2014 midterm results, when disaffected and disappointed progressive Dems don’t bother to show up at the polls. Oh, and of course there’ll be lots of gay and hippie punching, because there always is.

  13. ezpz says:

    I came to my senses a little later. Yes, I bought into the hope hype 4 years ago, but didn’t get fooled again. It felt so good to NOT vote for either of the major parties. I doubt I ever will again. We can only hope that more and more people will come to their senses, and vote accordingly, until the two major parties are no more.

  14. Max_1 says:

    And then there are dreamers…

  15. Max_1 says:

    Meanwhile, Obama is meeting with CEO’s Wednesday to “discuss” the fiscal cliff…
    … In other words, gaming which institutions will get axed while entrenching the low Corporate taxes are saved.

  16. Max_1 says:

    I stopped voting for Democrats as Presidents back in 2000…
    … One can not complain about the bites on the hand while feeding the lion.

  17. Max_1 says:

    To be a more effective “PROGRESSIVE” one must be a progressive in the first place and right of center is NOT where “PROGRESSIVES” exist.

  18. Krusher says:

    I don’t think so. In my opinion, he’s not a progressive, he’s a centrist. And just for the record, I think John Kerry would make a terrible secretary of state and a terrible defense secretary. I don’t think he should be allowed anywhere near the cabinet. He’s got an awful temper and a very strong sense of entitlement.

  19. ezpz says:

    Chris Hedges answers your question as he accurately describes the questioner:

    “Once Again—Death of the Liberal Class”

    “The presidential election exposed the liberal class as a corpse. It fights for nothing. It stands for nothing. It is a useless appendage to the corporate state. It exists not to make possible incremental or piecemeal reform, as it originally did in a functional capitalist democracy; instead it has devolved into an instrument of personal vanity, burnishing the hollow morality of its adherents. Liberals, by voting for Barack Obama, betrayed the core values they use to define themselves—the rule of law, the safeguarding of civil liberties, the protection of unions, the preservation of social welfare programs, environmental accords, financial regulation, a defiance of unjust war and torture, and the abolition of drone wars. The liberal class clung desperately during the long nightmare of this political campaign to one or two issues, such as protecting a woman’s right to choose and gender equality, to justify its complicity in a monstrous evil. This moral fragmentation—using an isolated act of justice to define one’s self while ignoring the vast corporate assault on the nation and the ecosystem along with the pre-emptive violence of the imperial state—is moral and political capitulation. It fails to confront the evil we have become.
    Liberals have assured us that after the election they will build a movement to hold the president accountable—although how or when or what this movement will look like they cannot say. They didn’t hold him accountable during his first term. They won’t during his second. They have played their appointed roles in the bankrupt political theater that passes for electoral politics. They have wrung their hands, sung like a Greek chorus about the evils of the perfidious opponent, assured us that there is no other viable option, and now they will exit the stage. They will carp and whine in the wings until they are trotted out again to assume their role in the next political propaganda campaign of disempowerment and fear. They will, in the meantime, become the butt of ridicule and derision by the very politicians they supported….”

    Well worth reading this entire excellent piece:


  20. Naja pallida says:

    He ran on a promise to cut Social Security. He ran on a promise to keep the Afghanistan war going until at least 2014. He thinks he has a mandate to get this “Grand Bargain” passed, which is going to require more Republican ideas than Democratic ones. He was very careful to temper his promises this time around, and either ignored or waffled on everything that would be considered progressive. His acceptance speech was even surprisingly devoid of real forward momentum, despite a lot of platitudes. Do I anticipate some more public complaining about Republican obstructionism? Sure. But I certainly don’t expect progressive policies to suddenly come flying out of the man, or he would have already stated he is firing Eric Holder and Tim Geithner for his next term, and actually appoint people who will do their fucking jobs instead of constantly protecting rich people. We can only hope that having a few more personalities in Congress who will hold Obama’s feet to the fire will help drag him across the line on some reasonably moderate legislation, and temper the more ridiculous shit the Republicans try to force on him.

  21. ronbo says:

    If we base the future on past actions…
    Obama has already organized for the kill and projected his position. Great grandmothers should be able to hold down a full-time job loading trucks. He just knows that 70 year old manual laborers are strong enough to work their fingers to the bone so that bankers can enjoy their yacht.

  22. nicho says:

    I disagree. He’s not in disguise. He’s an open moderate Republican.

  23. indep_in_la says:

    “More effective liberal’? Are you kidding me? Obama is no liberal – not by a long shot. If you look at the political parties today the group called “Republicans” is really the American Fascist party – pro corporation and pro plutocracy. The group called “Democrats” is really the Republican party of 40 years ago. Forty years ago Obama would have been considered a moderate Republican. Just like Clinton was/is.

    Obama is no liberal and definitely not a progressive.

  24. Danalan says:

    Let’s see how he responds to the legal growers, state-owned stores, and the users of marijuana in Washington state and Colorado. I still think he’s a chump – a moderate Republican in disguise.

  25. PurpAv says:

    Pretty big “if” based on the past 4 years. Massive unemployment among new college grads, The govt now owns their student loans that can’t be wiped away with bankruptcy anymore, A smile and “cool” don’t mean much when you’re living in a cardboard box

  26. PurpAv says:

    Obama is a narcissist…which means he has no empathy. He can’t even fake empathy convincingly the way Bill Clinton was able to. Narcissists use people and discard them when they’re no longer useful to them. GLBT will get about as much from him in the future as Amb Stevens did.

  27. Don Chandler says:

    You should go back and youtube one of those Reagan convention speeches. I remember not being moved at the time. But wow, they were mesmerizing–the trumpets were blaring in the 1980 speech. That guy knew how to wow an audience. Obama has very little Reagan in him–an unlikely hero. I’ve noticed that everyone likes Socrates. History is being kind to Reagan too.

  28. jomicur says:

    A lot of observers have commented on the large number of times Obama and Romney said they agreed with each other during the debates. Try though I might, I simply can’t forget that. I suppose you can try and make a case that he was just trying to project a “nice guy” image, but it sure sounded to me a lot like the old “compromise” (read: “cave”) Obama we know so well. While it’s certainly comforting to think that this presidential leopard has changed his spots, I prefer to wait and see; I ran out of “hope” for him a couple of years ago. I simply can’t make myself forget, or overlook, the multiple times he’s told us that his political hero is Ronald Reagan.

  29. hollywoodstein says:

    Dem Congresscritters may be our salvation. They still have to face their constituents and are nervous about monkeying around too much with SS.

  30. FLL says:

    On the other thread, Gaius Publius notes that Obama was much more timid with right-wing Republicans in June of 2011, when the Tea Party had a freer hand in the House of Representatives. Things have changed to such an extent as a result of last week’s election that John Boehner set up a conference call with some Tea Party types that had often revolted during the last two years when presented with the notion of compromise. Boehner pretty much informed them of their reduced clout, and they actually grumbled their agreement.

    You ask an interesting question, John, regarding who Obama really is. Well, you have an entire life in the public eye to judge: Illinois state senator, U.S. senator, two years pushing the economic stimulus and Obamacare, and then… reacting to a pie in the face from America’s Tea Party right wing after the 2010 election. I’m sure that Obama has never exhibited any inclination to kill progressive causes because he just plain hates progressive values. To assume that Obama hates progressive values with no more evidence than his maneuvering during the Tea Party deluge of 2011 is not “second guessing.” I would call it something else.

  31. dula says:

    I just hope he keeps that “horses and bayonets” tone in his second term. He needs an inner sarcasm to deal with obstructionists, assuming he has some real Liberal notions of his own.

  32. Don Chandler says:

    That first debate showed the old wimpy Obama–I lost a lot of enthusiasm for the guy. Obama was actually making the case for Romney and the republicans. His subsequent debates were decent…he let Romney hang himself on Lybia in debate 2 with, “continue governor”–that made me laugh so hard..Romney’s roseanne roseannadanna moment.

    Hope Obama really did learn who are his real enemies–a president needs to throw some punches to win. The Republican House needs a pummeling.

    I loved the Romnesia uppercut. It played well in the flip-flop barrage.

    Basically, a constituency needs to sculpt it’s champion.

  33. HereinDC says:

    His legacy will be what teens and 20’s and young 30’s think of him now…..and if Obama appeals to those people and helps them his next 4+ years……Obama’s legacy will be positive.

  34. HereinDC says:

    I don’t see the GOP being less obstructionist………so I see OBama pointing that out….and doing Liberal ways.

  35. I agree with you John. I think the President as some progressive bones, but he also knows where the bread is buttered. I think how hard he fights for progressive issues depends a lot on how he sees his post-presidency and legacy. My hope is that he’ll decide he’ll have enough money and power either way and go with doing the right things for the country. My cynical side sees him staying in bed with the banksters and the war/torture/drone machine.
    Fingers crossed. If he goes progressive he can move the whole country in a better direction.

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