Gut Check

I’m not a big fan of political analysis that treats national leaders like teenage boys who must perpetually assert their virility, or “grow a pair” or “show they have spine.” This kind of talk assumes the way forward is so clear that only cowardice can explain not taking it, which is typically an overstatement disguised as an unstated premise.

But there are occasions where the road ahead definitely presents a choice that cannot be avoided, and Barack Obama is nearing the crossroads. The GOP and big chunks of the MSM are in concert demanding that he abandon any plans he might have for the remainder of his presidency in order to work with those fine, honest statesmen John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, not to mention the supposedly domesticated Tea Folk holding guns to their backs. I’d be very, very surprised if their demands do not crystallize on three issues: the Keystone XL pipeline, the impending DACA expansion, and the implementation of EPA’s proposed carbon emissions regs for existing utilities.

It’s entirely possible that the White House has already decided to approve Keystone XL; I really don’t know. So let’s put that one aside for a moment. Obama has already indicated he will proceed with the DACA expansion, which has produced a great deal of spluttering rage. He hasn’t, however, made it clear the scope of the expansion will not be scaled back to accommodate Republican pressure.

On the EPA regs, their scope is already established, making their implementation or cancellation or further delay more of a cut-and-dried proposition.

In exchange for bending on these two issues–and on Keystone XL, though again, it’s not entirely clear what the president would have done on that front had Democrats rather than Republicans had an excellent midterm election–what would Obama secure, other than praise from Ron Fournier? Apparently the chance to act on other Republican priorities, like fast-track trade authority, corporate tax cuts, and of course “reforms” to the Affordable Care Act.

I’m not a game theory expert, but when you are asked to make major concessions in order to obtain the opportunity to make additional concessions, the best response is probably laughter.

Merits aside, the DACA expansion is crucial to the political future of Obama’s party, and represents a clear moral obligation already delayed. And you can make the argument that utility regs, as a first step towards action to forestall potentially catastrophic climate change, is as important an Obama legacy item as the Affordable Care Act. These should not be negotiable items, particularly when all Republicans offer in exchange is a few patronizing attaboys to be followed by additional demands. Let ’em prove they can win an election when more than 38% of eligible voters are participating.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.