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The New Yorker's Liberal Illusions about Barack Obama

With his article “The Second Term” in the current issue of The New Yorker, political reporter Ryan Lizza asks what Barack Obama would do if he were reelected. Lizza then proceeds to reveal all the illusions which he and his fellow left-liberals living in Manhattan’s Upper West Side and Brooklyn's Park Slope all share.

It is a given to Lizza that Obama will have that chance. And his answer to the question is based on his belief that once he gets reelected, Obama will prove to his fellow Americans and the world that he can become the great president that Lizza and his associates all know he was meant to be.

Most conservative political commentators argue that if Obama does succeed in getting reelected, what we will see is a conscious turn to the political left. As a president who no longer has to worry about another term in office, Obama will use his executive branch powers to put into effect what he failed to do in his first term but which he had promised in 2008: a “fundamental transformation” in the direction America is to take. That means, conservatives argue, serious steps to move the United States in the direction of a social-democratic cradle-to-grave welfare state in the European style.

Lizza will have none of this. As he writes:

There is an argument, common on the right, that if Obama is re-elected he will pursue a more ideological, even radical, agenda because he will be unbound by the moderating influence of another election. As Dick Morris, of Fox News, put it in March, “A second term for Obama would bring on a socialist nightmare hellscape as he moves further to the left.” This argument is often bolstered by noting that Obama recently told the Russian Prime Minister, Dmitry Medvedev, that he would have “more flexibility” to pursue negotiations on missile defense “after my election.” Ed Morrissey, of the conservative blog Hot Air, warned that the comment should cause voters “to fear an Obama second term.”

Lizza rejects Morris’ logic, and argues that “a president who has won reelection can also feel less tied to his political base and more free to shift toward the political center.” And this, Lizza claims, is precisely what Obama will do. Lizza continues to argue that in a second term, Obama will initiate concrete steps he promised but was unable to move ahead with, such as finish the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with the Russians; move to implement meaningful policies to deal with the dangers of climate change; and, most importantly, implement immigration reform that will attain bipartisan support. He will also attempt a breakthrough on energy policy and take steps to create real tax reform. All of the above would have to be done in 2013, because after that year, it would be too late.

In doing the above, Lizza argues, Obama would be following in the footsteps of none other than Ronald Reagan, who “passed immigration reform, a major reform of the tax code, and an arms control treaty with the Soviets.” Reagan was successful in his endeavors, and ended his term in office with a 55 percent approval rating. For Obama to succeed depends on his showing some humility, as well as dealing with “a revitalized faction of Republican lawmakers willing to make deals with the president.” Noting that there will be a divided Congress and a continuing polarization in the nation, Lizza believes that “it seems more implausible to suppose that Obama would turn radical in his second term than that he would cool to his Democratic base.”

Lizza is correct that if Obama wins he will do so with only a slim margin of victory and will not have any kind of a mandate. Therefore, he assumes that Obama will try to convince Republicans that their tough stance did not lead to victory, and hence some of them will moderate and decide to cut deals with him.