With the 2012 presidential election over a year away, I have often paused to consider the possible outcome. It seems fairly certain to me that Barack Obama will be re-elected in 2012, though not as easily as in 2008. Recent events suggest that Obama is no fool when it comes to politics, and is taking matters into his own hands.
It is the economy where the president's harshest opponents seem to hold the most ammunition, and where his political defenses are weakest. Recent polls portray a widespread public disappointment with Obama's handling of the economy, and with House Republicans effectively blocking his American Jobs Act, there is a looming impression that President Obama is powerless to do anything about it.
The president appears to be keenly aware of his political situation, and is embarking on a plan to meet these challenges head-on. Although compromise has been the president's traditional mantra, recent weeks have seen a shift in strategy. Among Democrats there has been a general longing for Obama to take a hard-line approach; to deliver results and to generate some badly needed motivation in the Democratic base. Having compromised for most of his first term, Obama seems to have cleared the way to play hardball. He is promising some movement, one way or another.
The shift in strategy is two-fold. First, Obama has been applying a great amount of pressure to the Republican-dominated House. He has pushed for the clause-by-clause reintroduction of the American Jobs Act, because he knows there is overwhelming popular support for many of the provisions in the $447 billion package. By making Republicans say "no" to each and every idea in the package, the president can't help but paint a prominent picture of the inflexibility of his political opponents.
Second, Obama is taking action with a "We can't wait" (for congress to act) campaign. This means taking political measures over and above the purview of the Republican House. It is a campaign fueled by the president's office and its executive powers. But lo, what can Obama do with these, you ask?
Let's start with domestic policy. The president's executive powers mainly concern his wide-ranging authority to oversee federal laws and agencies. It is here he possesses a small but significant ability to implement policies and changes -- be it through government procurement policies, administrative overhauls, or other mundane (but possibly significant) amendments. We're already seeing a smorgasbord of these executive actions, with no evidence that the president is slowing down.
Take for example his three recent (and largely unilateral) announcements: the first for new mortgage and refinancing rules for homeowners in trouble. Another announcement last week was targeted at students, with important changes to the nation's student loan system. A third example is the business partnerships and tax incentives his administration has offered to businesses for hiring veterans.
As Obama himself acknowledged in a statement, "Steps like these won't take the place of the bold action we need from Congress to boost our economy and create jobs, but they will make a difference."
The veterans announcement goes hand in hand with one far more pivotal, and controversial recent decision, stemming from one of the president's most important powers, and one where his performance (in destroying both Bin Laden and Gaddafi's regime) gives him strength: his command of American foreign policy.
As Commander-in-Chief, the president's recent announcement that he will be bringing the troops home from Iraq at the end of this year signals the end of a significant chapter in contemporary American history.
Critics of the president's move contend that it is a "strategic tragedy", which imperils the progress and hard-earned victories won in Iraq. To others, leaving Iraq serves as a key "diplomatic defeat;" it gives the impression that the United States is simply "giving up" and getting out. Also chiming in are some of Obama's possible presidential rivals, who point to the move as blatant political posturing.
These objections are pale in comparison to the benefits of ending America's involvement in Iraq: besides reuniting tens of thousands of families and improving America's reputation among the international community, once the exodus is completed, the country will save on the order of $720 million per day in what would have been military spending - money that the government can put to good use in strengthening the economy.
One final and significant power that the president possesses is his ability to veto. Should the House look to pass legislation that he finds unpopular, the president can further reinforce his "hard-line" approach by using this power.
Make no mistake; Obama is in a tough spot. The economy remains in relative tatters, with little signs of improvement. With many veterans and military staff returning, it will be important that his administration provides the recognition, benefits and opportunities to service members that both parties expect. Additionally, Iraq or Afghanistan (or both) could potentially become a crisis between now and the election.
Whether Americans will see Obama's actions as strong leadership or petty political posturing remains to be seen; however the president's ability to take matters into his own hands is certainly solidifying his re-election in 2012.