The disastrous rollout of Obamacare, worse than anyone anticipated or warned, could have doomed the president's second term. It would require something very big to take your eyes off of that disaster.
What an idea. Shut down the government.
How clever can you get? The only thing worse than Obamacare is the crowd that would close down the government, leaving people all over the place in the lurch, in what they conceded from the outset was a hopeless act of protest that would in practice change nothing.
The tea party, of course, wants more people like that in Washington. And they may get them. In the convoluted rules of Washington, that would be better for the Democrats than the Republicans, except that it would make getting things done even more difficult, which is not really good for the president, who has to figure out what to do for the next three years — apart from those things that other second-term presidents have done, like leave the country a lot.
The president could drill down on partisan politics, make it his priority to raise money for Democratic candidates, attack the "do-nothing" Republican Congress — all of which he probably will do.
Here's an idea. Acknowledge mistakes. Try to fix things. The big moves for President Obama may be fixing the big moves he's already made.
The health care system is the obvious example. It is going to be a mess, but it will be a mess that is post-Obamacare. Millions of people are covered under Obamacare. You can't "get rid" of it; there is no "it" anymore, no switch that can be turned off.
The question is: How do we fix all of the things people are complaining about without bankrupting ourselves? Not to mention all of the other things we need to fix.
Like the NSA and intelligence gathering. If Obama were a Republican president, the disclosures relating to surveillance programs would be a daily nightmare.
As it is, many of the people you might expect to be screaming the loudest are on the inside or are friends with the people on the inside, not to mention supporters of the president. So exactly whom should they scream at?
Really, the question should be: When is the administration going to step up to the issue? As far as I know, Obama is the only former professor of constitutional law to become president. A frightened and confused country might turn to such a president in search of a little bit of wisdom as to how to balance overwhelming interests (Security! Terrorism! Liberty!) on both sides. Hello?
Are we still at war in Afghanistan? Any news on Guantanamo? Okay. Just had to ask.
Immigration reform? What if you try to do it just the opposite of the way you did health care? Instead of all or nothing, piece by piece. Lots of steps. Hard things to oppose. It's true that, from a rules perspective, if you want comprehensive reform, you'd better have a comprehensive bill — but maybe it's enough to say we will have a long series of small reforms.
I am amazed at the anger I hear from people on the topic of Obama. Some of it, on both sides, may be unconscious racism. There are all kinds of reasons not to focus on race issues during the president's second term. On the other hand, why not?
Whenever I see a "candid" picture of Obama, I am reminded that I have no idea what this man is really like. Of course, I've read the books and I hear stories from those who know him. But five years into his presidency, I don't feel I have come to know him. And that allows me to project onto him attributes — of being cold and aloof, for example — that make it his fault, or worse, to be disappointed, as are many who thought they knew him.
Five years into his presidency, my guess is that fewer Americans believe they know and understand this president than did on the day he took office, which is an agenda of its own.
(Susan Estrich is a professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California Law Center. A best-selling author, lawyer and politician, as well as a teacher, she first gained national prominence as national campaign manager for Dukakis for President in 1988.)