'World News' Political Insights: President Obama Builds Foundation From Wreckage
Victories Provide Roadmap for Obama's Political Adjustment
By RICK KLEIN
WASHINGTON, Dec. 19, 2010
Nothing motivates members of the majority party quite like knowing they'll be in the minority soon.
Out of the wreckage of a disastrous election, and to the surprise of most political observers, a lame-duck session that figured to be mostly mop-up duty has become enormously productive -- both on the policy and the political fronts.
The dizzying range of accomplishments has blurred party lines in some instances, and drawn them more thickly in other areas.
And perhaps the only major political figure who can plausibly claim victory in all of the major areas is President Obama.
It will get harder from here, but the seeds of a political comeback -- or, at least, the suggestion that such a comeback is possible -- have been planted in the interim period before Republicans take over the House.
In the tax cut bill the president signed into law Friday, Obama defied members of his own party and reversed himself on a critical campaign pledge.
But the result was a tax cut for virtually all Americans, a big boost of stimulus-style spending he was unlikely to get with a Republican Congress, and a signing ceremony where the president could come across as larger than Washington politics.
The repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy is a major win for the president on social policy and national security.
It delivers on a promise that's of particular importance to the Democratic Party's liberal base, and the law the president is poised to sign sets up an orderly process for the Defense Department to implement the change that will allow gays and lesbians to serve openly.
The ratification of the START treaty with Russia, which now appears likely to come in the Senate this week, would give the president a foreign policy win that enhances his credibility on the international stage.
The defeat of the DREAM Act immigration bill in the Senate is a major disappointment to immigration-rights advocates. Some Democrats are blaming the president for not making immigration reform a bigger priority.
Yet even that loss could be a long-term win for Democrats. Republican efforts to make inroads with the fast-growing Hispanic community have faltered in recent years, and the image of the GOP blocking a bill to help the children of undocumented immigrants serves to underline the differences between the parties.
It's far from clear that wins in the lame-duck session of Congress will translate into success over the next two years.
With the exception of the tax bill -- which passed with bipartisan support, and despite bipartisan opposition -- the movement has come because of the strong Democratic majorities in Congress that disappear in two weeks' time.
Among the ironies of the lame-duck successes is that they've come in policy areas that Democrats have sought to avoid because of their political potency. Only now, with the knowledge that all Democratic priorities will get more difficult to achieve in a few weeks, has the party in power found the political will to move on the items.
Yet as Congress has gotten more done in six days than it had in six months, the president has been able to make progress on the domestic and foreign policy fronts. Taken together, he can count achievements on the economy, the military and national security, and social issues.
A president who saw his base crater in the midterm elections has given his backers something to cheer in the weeks since then.
For a White House that's looking for traction in a political environment that's shifted quickly over the past two years, that's change to believe in.