These last few weeks have been consequential ones for the Obama presidency and the 2012 campaigns. Both the SCOTUS SB1070 decision and yesterday's Affordable Care Act decision went the president's way. The president broke the logjam on immigration reform with his courageous decision to grant temporary legal status to DREAM eligible youth. Polls continue to show him winning the election, and there was some evidence this week that he may be gaining ground in the battlegrounds, potentially making Romney's challenge even harder.
But I think the lasting political impact of these last few weeks will be on the perception of Obama as a leader and the overall efficacy of his first term. We've seen a president these last few weeks; one taking decisive action for the nation, overcoming significant opposition, sticking to his guns and battling for his core beliefs. Mitt Romney, on the other hand, has been largely invisible, and when he has popped up on the national stage has sounded strangely incoherent and baffled by the changing landscape of the race. His performances have been anything but reassuring about his own style of leadership.
The validation of the ACA opens the possibility for the president to make a much stronger case for the positive impact of this time in office. He has dramatically improved the American health care system; has made the border safer and the immigration system better; is winding down, peacefully, our military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, and has overseen and nurtured a critical moment of modernization and democratization in North Africa and the Middle East. On his watch, America has adopted a far-sighted national energy strategy that is reducing our dependence on foreign sources of energy while making prudent investments in a better and cleaner energy future; he has helped lead the world through a tumultuous global financial period, avoiding a world financial collapse; his aggressive actions have all but destroyed al Qaeda, and bin Laden is no longer a threat to the world; he took a far-sighted and momentous civil rights step by embracing marriage equality; and he has mobilized the global community to confront Iran in unprecedented ways, bringing them to the negotiating table and further isolating and weakening them on the global stage.
On the economy, it is clear now that the stimulus and financial rescue package helped stop the most dangerous economic period America had experienced since the early 1930s, kept the banking system solvent and ushered in a period of slow but steady growth. The housing market is showing signs of true recovery in many parts of the country. Corporate profits remain at historically high levels, and the stock market is at high levels. In the next few days the president will likely sign a bi-partisan transportation bill which will put people to work right away and a student loan bill which will ensure low interest rates for our kids. He has proposed a basket of other initiatives which could grow the economy right now, all opposed by the Congressional GOP.
At this point he will be able to say, truthfully, that under his leadership the economy is stronger and the world safer than when we took office.
If indeed there is a rise in what is called in polling "strong leader/weak leader," I think it is a big problem for the Romney camp. Consider their strategic landscape: losing in the national polls, the states and the electoral college; not winning the economy argument with Obama (things are even or slightly in Obama's favor); far behind in foreign policy and national security dimensions (possibly the first GOPer to be in this position in the modern era); and watching the strong leader/weak leader dimension start to slip away. Where exactly does the Romney camp go now? Health care? Thought folks wanted to talk about the economy. Foreign policy? Romney's foreign policy experience seems limited to shipping jobs and his money overseas. The economy? I just don't think Romney is in a position to decisively beat Obama there unless there is a full collapse, and a decisive victory is required if they are to gain the ground they need to gain in the coming months.
I have believed for some time that the Romney/Rove/GOP machine was going to come to realize that their only path to victory was by exploiting the strong leader/weak leader dimension as all other paths were just not there for them. And that path just got a whole lot tougher for them. And thus this was indeed a very consequential few weeks in both the Obama presidency and the 2012 elections.
This article was cross posted on the NDN blog.