It has been pointed out to me that I seem to have a little bad luck when it comes to picking weeks to be away from the website. It is true that back in August, I managed to miss the week in which the Obama vice presidential sweepstakes culminated in the selection of Joe Biden. I remember listening late at night out in the hinterland on a small transistor radio to the news that Secret Service agents were in transit to Biden’s house. This was shortly before confirmation of the selection leaked out in advance of the much-hyped, exclusive campaign text message to the same effect.
This time, I don’t think Governor Lynch would have considered a plea for executive action to postpone New Hampshire schools winter break. And a delay of the Obama address to Congress wasn't in the cards either. So now I am finally back in action, just in time for yet another major snowstorm. From the tremendous spike in my web traffic during the second half of last week, I’m guessing many of you were eager to chew over the week’s bounty of political news. I’m sorry I couldn’t be here, but I was able to keep reasonably abreast of developments from a warm and sunny undisclosed location.
We all know that analysis on the web moves at warp speed. Most blogs have already moved past President Obama’s address to Congress, Bobby Jindal’s response, the release of Obama’s mega-budget, and are now digesting leftovers from the CPAC meeting this past weekend, including Mitt Romney’s third straight win in the meeting’s conservative straw poll. So, I am not going to spend a lot of time backtracking. But I will say that the events of last week brought into the sharpest relief yet the fundamental ideological debate we will be having over the next four years. Turns out it is the same one we had during the fall campaign and for most of the past 30 years, only Democrats now seem to have the upper hand in a way they have not enjoyed since the 1970s.
Some will argue that President Obama’s massive spending plan is simply a continuation of President Bush’s massive spending plan, and that the debate over the expanding reach of big government really only exists in the realm of political rhetoric. While there is certainly some truth to this criticism, there are real differences in priorities and methods here, which is why you heard so much this past week about President Obama’s program representing a fundamental reversal of Reaganism.
As for the Republicans, both the Jindal response and CPAC oratory underscore that the party has a long way to go, in order to regain its political footing. While the party’s base of social conservatives seems more united in their opposition to Obama than ever before, I still don’t see any viable strategy emerging to get them beyond the 25-30% of the electorate made up of true believers.
It is also clear to me that, the weak Jindal performance notwithstanding, any new leadership in the party will have to emerge from the ranks of the party’s governors. With perhaps the exception of forty-something Congressman Eric Cantor of Virginia, the Republican Party’s congressional leadership is largely spent. I haven’t met anyone who thinks John McCain, John Boehner, or Mitch McConnell can lead the party out of the wilderness. And the strategy of demonizing Democratic leaders like Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid will only show diminishing returns over time, despite their ability to be their own worst enemy on occasion.
So, we will continue to have this debate about spending, taxes, policy priorities and the reach of big government. Obama still has tremendous political capital, but knows he must deliver the goods over the next two years. Republicans have found a voice in opposition to the president’s agenda and his leaders in Congress, but it is being heard by few at the moment. In my absence, the political events of last week certainly propelled these storylines forward with great velocity.
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