Newspapers and TV channels are busy writing stories about President Obama’s first hundred days in office. Were they a success? That depends on the tint of your lenses but most Americans would agree, “Hell yeah!” This is remarkable in itself because the economic news for those first hundred days has been dismal and there are only hints that it will improve in the months ahead. Nonetheless, when asked about President Obama’s performance so far, about 68% of Americans give thumbs up. Not only do Americans approve of President Obama’s performance so far by wide margins, about eighty percent also like him as a person. Really, what’s not to like? He’s got it all: charisma, a sunny smile, a low key manner, poise, manners, a trim and muscular body, good looks, two cute kids, a wonderful wife, a Portuguese water dog and (in marked contrast to his predecessor) a brain.
You do not even really have to like the guy to feel the ship of state quickly changing course toward smoother waters. This is happening because Obama knows the levers to pull to actually make it happen. He promised change and thanks to his expanded Democratic Congress, he is quickly delivering. Gitmo is closing along with those overseas CIA black sites where prisoners unknown were probably tortured. As for torture itself: banned. In addition, the Bush Administration’s torture memos have also finally see the light of day. Obama has ordered troop levels increased by 17,000 in Afghanistan. In Iraq, he has given the military instruction to remove all combat forces by August 2010. He shook hands with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and made overtures to hold talks with Iranian leaders. Cuban Americans can now legally travel to Cuba to see their families.
Domestically, Obama convinced Congress to pass a $787 billion stimulus bill which among doing vital things like fixing our deteriorating infrastructure and moving us to a cleaner energy future also provides extended unemployment benefits to those who were running out of them. He signed the Lilly Ledbetter Act, making it easier for women to collect for past job discrimination. Many of the Bush Administration’s most egregious environmental regulations have been rescinded, including those ones that allowed mountaintop refuse to pollute Appalachian streams or mining in The Grand Canyon. He also convinced Congress to pass the largest tax cut for the middle class in history: $282 billion. Not bad for the first hundred days.
Republicans have a point on his record deficits, but offered no viable solution of their own on how to change the economic situation. In any event, Americans generally sense that Obama is a different sort of president, mindful that he cannot throw borrowed money against our problems forever, but also smart enough to know there are times like today when it is actually the smart thing to do.
A hundred days is just a number. You can be certain if the houses of Congress were divided, his successes would be much smaller. Myriad problems and issues lie ahead, like his promise to provide health insurance for all Americans. However, under a budget reconciliation agreement, the Senate cannot filibuster its health care proposal, meaning it is likely to happen more to his liking, and sooner rather than later. Not that it would have mattered now anyhow. Yesterday, on Day 99, Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter found it politically convenient to become a Democrat. At this point even Norm Coleman realizes that his appeals will be for naught and that Al Franken will eventually become Minnesota’s second Democratic senator. That means Democrats will reach the magic 60 votes needed to prevent Republican filibusters assuming, as is always dubious with Democrats, that none cross the aisle.
Meanwhile, the Republican Party seems determined to implode. It is like they want to be politically irrelevant. Democrats held their nose and let Senator Liebermann caucus with them when he won reelection as an Independent in 2006. They pragmatically decided doing so just increased their share of committee seats and power is what the game is all about in Congress. When Senator Arlen Specter switched parties yesterday, some Republicans like Rush Limbaugh felt compelled to kick him on the rear on his way out the door. The message is clear: rather than be a “big tent” party, The Republican Party wants to become even more insular and actually enjoys being mean and nasty.
How Republicans can possibly become politically relevant again while maintaining these attitudes is unclear at best. There does not appear to be a new set of Americans waiting out there for which this message has any appeal. They don’t understand why Republicans have to be both insular and obstructionist. They want politicians to actually solve problems. Since The Republican Party is now essentially The Conservative Party, their only answer to today’s problems is to throw sand into the gears of government. The rest of us are pretty sure that since this didn’t work for the last eight years it probably won’t work very well in the next eight years either.
Moreover, many of these same conservatives, who just a few years ago we proclaiming “My country, right are wrong”, now want to secede from the United States. Apparently, to many Republicans loyalty to country only lasts as long as they are in charge. According to a Research 2000 poll, half of the Republicans in Texas prefer seceding to staying in the union. There is patriotism for you. I guess this is easier to take your chips and go home than it is to do what you have to do to regain power: accommodate others with many but not all of your opinions. A pragmatic Republican Party for example would be agnostic on gay marriage, since a new generation of Americans simply doesn’t understand why gays should not marry. This would not only encourage not only gay independents to become Republican, but also large number of Libertarians who don’t understand why in a free country gays cannot be as free as the rest of us. Since they cannot, they hamstring themselves into what looks like a long period of political irrelevance.
Normally a midterm election means the opposing party picks up seats. The omens do not look good for Republican pickups in 2010. Democrats are likely to increase their majority with the retirement of Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire. With only 23% of Americans identifying themselves as Republican (versus 33% as recently as 2003), it is hard to see where Republicans can pick up seats. It certainly doesn’t help when Republicans pick Club for Growth candidates to field in the general election. It only makes them look more extreme.
It remains to be seen how long The Republican Party will choose to be out of power. If they are waiting for America to become more conservative, it is likely to be a long wait. Their best hope as always is to hope the other guy screws up. Unfortunately, President Obama is proving to be the most politically adept president since Ronald Reagan. He will doubtless make mistakes, but it is unlikely he will make large and egregious mistakes due to not thinking through an issue sufficiently. His poll numbers speak for themselves.
The way things are going, The Grand Old Party may soon become The Grand Dead Party.