Dean Obeidallah: Obama in a tough stretch, facing policy debacles, low poll numbers
If it were a movie, his character would be surrounded -- but he can change outcome, he says
He says he must aggressively press agenda and also aim for Democrats to retake House
Obeidallah: GOP dictating narrative, but he must take control before term runs out
Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is a political comedian and frequent commentator on various TV networks including CNN. He is the co-director of the new comedy documentary “The Muslims Are Coming!” It was released recently. Follow him on Twitter @deanofcomedy.
Things are looking horrible for President Barack Obama. There’s the Obamacare website fiasco. Ongoing allegations of National Security Agency spying on European leaders. There was the government shutdown that damaged the economy on his watch. And a new poll released this week finds Obama with his lowest approval rating – and his highest disapproval rating – ever.
If this were a movie, we would be at the part where the hero finds himself surrounded. He has no escape routes and he’s outgunned. What will happen next: Will our hero prevail like John McClane in “Die Hard,” or will he fail like William Wallace in “Braveheart”?
Well, the good news for Obama is that the script for the final scenes of his presidency has not been written yet. The bad news is that he may not be the one writing it.
Simply put: Obama is not the protagonist driving his own story. Rather, his storyline is being dictated by others. No question, he has long had trouble controlling the narrative, with a GOP bent on denying him, basically, everything he wants. But now he’s heading toward the end of his final term – and the clock is ticking on his agenda.
Obama’s main antagonist, of course, is the hyper-partisan Congress that refuses to agree on the most basic issues, such as raising the debt ceiling, which Congress has done more than 40 times since 1980. And unless something changes, it’s looking bad for immigration reform, universal background checks for gun purchases, income tax reform or any of the other proposals he outlined in his State of the Union nine months ago.
Perhaps the worst thing about the problems with the Obamacare website is that they occurred at a time when things were finally looking politically brighter for Obama. Though the government shutdown had been an unwelcome setback, polls showed after it ended that Americans blamed the Republicans in Congress for it much more than they blamed him. It looked as if Obama had righted his ship and would be able to refocus Americans on his priorities.
It was as if Obama had become George Clooney as the captain of the fishing boat in “The Perfect Storm.” The rain has stopped, the ocean is turning calm and there is even a glimmer of sunlight; he’s beaten the storm. But then moments later, the sky darkens and there is a deluge of rain. The choppy waters (in this case, the Obamacare website debacle) soon consume the ship.
Is this Obama’s metaphoric fate? He can accept another plotline – let’s say of “Gravity,” with Obama as a character like Sandra Bullock’s, hit with one harrowing challenge after another. This may be exciting to watch, but not great for the character, who has no idea what will happen next.
I’d recommend a different story line. I’d use the ending of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” as inspiration and metaphorically go out with guns blazing. Why not set some lofty goals that will frame the agenda anew going forward?
First, Obama should announce that retaking control of the House in 2014 is a top priority. Yes, many districts have been gerrymandered to all but ensure re-election for Republican House members. But he should take the fight to his adversaries anyway. Unseating some tea party House members has become newly possible after the shutdown mess. Their approval ratings are just below toe fungus. Can the President maneuver through this new landscape and turn it to his advantage? Even getting more moderate Republicans into the House could be a step toward sanity. (Sometimes you have to improvise to make a story line work.)
Obama should also use executive orders to the extent legally possible to attain his policy objectives. He did this very thing in 2011 when he ordered that many children of parents illegally in the United States would no longer be deported.
Sure, the Republicans will push back – they will say Obama is behaving like a “king” or “tyrant” and complain about him nightly on Fox News. But the upside is that the debate will be about the issues the President has chosen.
It’s denouement time for Obama as we enter the final act of his presidency. Will the President’s agenda continue to be dictated by others, making him nothing more than a lame duck, caretaker President? Or will he use every means at his discretion to write his own story?
Obama is the star of this movie. The only question is: How is it going to end?
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dean Obeidallah.