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Diplomacy in Action

Analysis of Obama's First State of the Union Address

FPC Briefing
Allan Lichtman
Professor of American Political History, American University
Foreign Press Center
Washington, DC
January 28, 2010

Date: 01/28/2010 Location: Washington D.C. Description: Allan Lichtman, Professor of American Political History, American University, offers his analysis on the President's first State of the Union Address at the Washington Foreign Press Center. - State Dept Image


11:00 a.m.

Moderator: Welcome to the Foreign Press Center. Today we have with us Professor Lichtman who is going to give us an analysis of Obama’s first State of the Union address.

Dr. Lichtman: Thank you very much, good morning.

Obama had a very successful first 100 days, followed by a very difficult second 200 days that put him at a pivot point in his presidency just prior to this State of the Union address.

Between the Obama promise of fundamental change and the reality of governing fell the shadow of gridlock in Washington.

During his first 100 days, Obama got the biggest stimulus bill in the history of the country through Congress. He began to change the direction of American foreign policy towards a more cooperative, more multilateral, more diplomatic approach to the world. He got a major initiative through on children’s health and on women’s rights.

Then he had to face the big issues, notably his attempt to overhaul the American health care system and his attempt to adopt a new and fundamental approach to climate change and the environment. That is where he fell afoul of the gridlock in Washington.

Barack Obama was very naïve in believing that he could change the culture of Washington, and that with a few meetings with Republicans or dinners at the houses of conservative pundits he could somehow work cooperatively with the other party. In fact we’ve seen perhaps the greatest polarization in Washington over these past 200 days in the history of the country.

Republicans made a fundamental strategic decision early on in the Obama administration. They decided to follow the Newt Gingrich strategy. Newt Gingrich was a Republican Member of the U.S. House and political strategist in the 1980s and 1990s who later briefly became Speaker of the U.S. House.

Newt Gingrich’s strategy was any defeat for the opposition is a victory for us. That the way Republicans return to power is by defeating Bill Clinton, the Democratic President and his ideas, and lo and behold, of course the most important proposal that Bill Clinton was putting forth during his first two years in office was a major overhaul of health care. Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey, another Member of the Republican House leadership, laid out a strategy that Dick Armey called in his secret memo, “The battle of the bulge for control of American government.” Saying if we can beat Bill Clinton and we can beat health care, we can stop liberalism in its tracks and Republicans could rise to power again, and it worked. Republicans took over both houses of the Congress in 1994 for the first time since the early 1950s, since the Eisenhower administration.

That is precisely the strategy that Republicans are following today. We will return to power by pasting as many big defeats as we can on the President of the United States, which is why when we saw in the health care bill the President did not get a single Republican supporting his proposals for major health care overhaul. And with the victory of Scott Brown, the Republican who stunningly took over the seat held by the liberal conscience Ted Kennedy, the Republicans believe that their strategy of implacable opposition to what Obama wants to do is succeeding.

So add to that the fact that you have in effect a 60 vote rule in the United States Senate, that is it takes 60 votes to kill a filibuster, and if the Republicans decide, as they have on every important issue to filibuster, in effect you need 60 votes to get anything done. The 60 vote rule is perhaps the greatest example in American history of the law of unintended consequences. It was put into effect by liberals in the 1970s to reduce the votes it took to kill a filibuster from 67 to 60 in the hope that things could get through the Congress. In fact the opposite has happened. Instead of filibusters becoming rare events, they have become the norm, producing what I call this gridlock in Washington.

So the failure of Barack Obama to deliver on his major initiatives combined with the fact that the economy has not improved nearly as much as Obama and others would have liked, combine together to produce a record fall in the President’s approval rating from the mid to high 60s, down to about 50 percent. It contributed to Republican victories and gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia, and contributed to the Republicans’ stunning victory in Massachusetts for Ted Kennedy’s seat.

Moreover, even though the Democrats held in principle 60 votes in the United States Senate, Barack Obama found it very difficult to rally even his own party behind some of the elements of his agenda.

The great American political humorist, perhaps our greatest political humorist, Will Rogers in the 1920s said, “I belong to no organized political party. I am a Democrat.”

So take implacable Republican opposition, the difficulty of uniting Democrats, and it’s understandable why so little got through the Congress in Barack Obama’s second 200 days.

So this put Barack Obama at a critical turning point, a pivot point I called it, in his presidency politically. Many Presidents have faced pivot points in the past, and how they respond to these pivot points has determined their political future and the course of American and to some extent world history.

The greatest example of this is Franklin Roosevelt. In 1938 during his second term his Democratic party took a huge hit in the mid-term elections. Huge losses. It looked like Republicans would return to power in 1940 and Franklin Roosevelt’s political career was over. But he made the pivot. He put on the shelf most of his ambitious New Deal domestic reform agenda and pivoted to become the leader of the free world in the fight against fascist aggression in Europe and Asia. The result was that Franklin Roosevelt was elected to two more terms, an unprecedented third and fourth term, and held a Democratic Congress throughout his tenure.

Barack Obama was at a similar pivot point going into the State of the Union Address. A fundamental course correction was needed, and that’s what you saw last night in his speech. He decided that what he needed to do was pivot away from a very unpopular major overhaul of health care that looked like it was unlikely anyway to get through the United States Senate with the Democrats losing their 60th vote; and pivot instead to the three things that were first and foremost on the minds of the American people. The economy, the economy, and the economy. This is what the American people are really caring about right now. Their jobs, their economic security, and the economic future of the country.

When people are worried about paying their mortgages, sending kids to college, paying their rent, putting the food on the table, everything else tends to dwarf in importance. Barack Obama had to make the pivot to focus on the economy. He had to convince the American people that he really cared about their plight, and that he had practical, workable answers. That’s why you saw the first critical part of the speech -- it was called the speech that really mattered -- entirely devoted to the economy. And you saw health care put into a decidedly lower priority. He didn’t actually walk away from health care, but he certainly gave the signal that this was not something he was going to try to go to the mattresses on, to push through at any cost. Rather he said I’m in essence going to open the debate again. I’m open to new ideas.

I think you will see health care reemerge, but in a much more limited fashion than we’ve seen at this point. I think you’ll see it reemerge in the form of more limited initiatives like curbing some of the worst abuses of the insurance companies and making the health care market more consumer friendly. But I think for the foreseeable future, a major overhaul of the health care system is simply not in the cards and the President of course did not say so in so many words, but clearly as part of this pivot indicated that.

You also saw with his proposals on the economy that for the most part these were very moderate proposals, some of which might even warm a cold Republican heart. He talked about using some of the bank money to go to community banks to stimulate local business. He talked about tax credits for small businesses who created jobs. He talked about eliminating the capital gains tax for certain kinds of small businesses. These are very moderate proposals where he at least has some chance of getting some Republican support.

He also had a vision and the vision was that we need to move into the transition to the newer, more green economy based on alternative forms of energy. Although even there you saw him make concessions to conservatives, talking about offshore drilling and nuclear power, not just things near and dear to liberal hearts like wind and solar power. So again, you saw the President very much moving to the middle in his proposals, even as he had a broad vision of the newer type of the American economy.

And he chastised both members of his own party for their failings, and to whatever extent he could, he both chastised and tried to reach out to Republicans. He did it with good humor, did it in a low key way, but basically he said here are these proposals, they’re practical ideas to help ordinary Americans. Republicans have two choices. They can work with me or they can continue to be simply nay-sayers. If they continue to be simply nay-sayers, you are going to see the President later on as the campaign approaches challenging the Republicans as a party of simply delay and obstruction.

Right now you’ve got this newly elected Scott Brown, the Senator from Massachusetts. The Republican is kind of the poster boy for independent Republicanism, and that’s the way he campaigned. But if he goes into the Senate and simply becomes another lock-step no-vote for the GOP, then I think Obama can turn it around and make him the poster boy for Republican obstructionism.

On foreign policy, the headline was “What wasn’t said.” The dog didn’t bark at all when it came to foreign policy, or to change the metaphor, foreign policy was really a very small tail on a much larger domestic animal. He barely talked about foreign policy at all. He saved it for very late in the speech. He had little passion in talking about foreign policy. And he had absolutely nothing new and nothing interesting to say. There was not a single new idea, not any exciting new rhetoric when it came to foreign policy. I think he understands that foreign policy right now is a very dangerous area for President Obama. It has more problems for him than possibilities in terms of the war in Afghanistan turning sour, the withdrawal from Iraq being stalled, new acts of terrorism against the United States, continuing difficulties in dealing with Iran and North Korea. This is a minefield that right now he’d rather tread around than walk into.

Those who thought that because of the problems at home the President would try to divert attention by looking towards foreign policy were simply wrong and simply did not understand what the President had to do which was to make the pivot to the economy.

If speeches were governing, the President would be a stunning success. This was an excellent speech. It struck the right tone, it reached out to ordinary Americans, it recognized the problems, but it also held out the possibility of hope. But governing, of course, is not equivalent to speech making. But the speech will help his governing for the simple reason that I think it will improve his approval ratings.

The overnight polls were pretty good, whatever they were. The snap polls. They showed him moving up about 20 points on questions like is he moving the country in the right direction, does he have good ideas on the economy? And I think you will see his approval rating going up and that is meaningful because the higher the approval rating of the President the more likely he is to get things going to Congress.

I also think he made another kind of pivot, and that is he tried to atone for what I think is the biggest political and policy-making mistake of the Obama administration so far, and that is not taking control of the national debate. Not translating the magic of his campaign into the magic of his administration. He is probably the most charismatic, the most eloquent President we’ve had since Ronald Reagan. But he hasn’t used to this point that magic, that charisma, that eloquence, that ability to create a special mystical bond with the American people. The classy example of that is on health care, the signature issue of his first year in office. Instead of framing the national debate, instead of explaining to the American people what’s at stake, what his ideas were in simple terms and how they’d benefit the American people, he pitched health care into the sausage factory of the Congress. The American people didn’t like the sausage-making process that they saw and they didn’t like the smell of the final product. By that time it was too late for Barack Obama to retrieve the health care proposals. I think he saw exactly the result of that in the speech last night.

A couple of, I thought, interesting headline moments in the speech were the following: First, right in their face Barack Obama rebuked the United States Supreme Court, or at least the five conservative members of the Supreme Court for their recent decision allowing corporations to pour money into political campaigns in unlimited fashion. You saw one of the conservative justice Samuel Alito quite taken aback and mouthing something like “That’s not so,” or “That’s not true,” not quite “you lie”, but perhaps close.

The other moment, which perhaps few have noticed was Barack Obama asking for the repeal of the “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell” policy on gays in the military. Basically saying we should open up the military to those of different sexual orientation, gays and lesbians. It was 20 seconds in the speech, but this is a hot button social issue in the United States. One of those issues that Bill Clinton got tied up in and we haven’t heard the last of the reverberations from Barack Obama’s remark.

Finally, while Barack Obama, as most Presidents do, did have a pretty broad laundry list of proposals beyond the economy, talked about immigration reform, health care, education -- he can’t do all that. It’s not possible. He has got to focus like a laser on his economic proposals over the next eight to ten months.

A good economy is no guarantee of success in elections, but for the party in power a bad economy is a guarantee of failure. The American people are above all pragmatic and they want the President and the Congress to focus on pragmatic solutions to their number one problem, and they will reward success and they will punish failure.

Thank you very much. I’ll take any questions.

Question: Zoltan Mikes, World Business Press Online.

My question is regarding, you were talking about that Obama is to the [inaudible] immigration, but in his first year he didn’t do too much about it. What do you think will be the impact on the [inaudible] feel the heat in the congressional election, mid-term congressional election because of this failure of Obama or of this non-[inaudible] on the question?

The second question is about Republicans --

Dr. Lichtman: Can I answer your first question first, then we’ll get to your second. I might not remember both of them.

On immigration, there is perhaps no more explosive, no more divisive issue than the issue of immigration and “immigration reform”. The country is deeply divided between those who want and understand the economic value of immigration, and those who believe all the undocumented aliens should be kicked out of the country, that immigrants are degrading our culture, and we should build a big fence around the country. It really hasn’t come about any kind of consensus position on immigration.

John McCain, Barack Obama’s opponent, was one of the key figures in a major immigration reform proposal -- the McCain/Kennedy Bill, and yet he said not one word about immigration during the campaign because he knew how explosive it was. The Obama administration is not going to push for spending a lot of political capital on immigration reform, which may be unfortunate, but that’s the political reality.

I don’t think they’ll feel a whole lot of heat from Latino voters, because I think Latino voters also right now are likewise most concerned about the economy, and there certainly is no alternative. The Republican party in terms of -- The priorities of the Latino community in immigration is much worse than Barack Obama and the Democrats.

Question: My second question is about the people who, I imagine in the Republican party, your opinion after this, I see them like fiscally responsible but not social conservatives. So does it mean that people like Mitt Romney and the social conservatives are finally politically dead?

Dr. Lichtman: Social conservatives are never politically dead. They have nine lives, maybe eighteen lives. And the reason is very simple. A core 20-25 percent support who really deeply and fervently believe in signature issues of the religious right such as eliminating abortion, making sure that marriage is only between a man and a woman, allowing school prayer, cracking down on pornography. There’s always a constituency for that, but it’s a small -- It’s not small, but it’s not anywhere close to a majority constituency. You can’t win as a Republican just by pushing the social issues.

Ronald Reagan understood that. He talked a lot about the social issues but spent almost zero political capital on the social issues once he was elected President. He focused on the economic issues. That’s where the key independent voters are. So I do believe that while the religious right remains very important in the Republican party, that you will see coming to the fore in the presidential campaign the economic conservatives rather than the religious.

By the way, I would put Romney as one of the economic conservatives. I wouldn’t put him as a champion of the religious right. I think the two main leaders of the social issue Republicans are Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee and one or both of them is quite likely to run for President.

But the leadership of the Republican party is wide open. There isn’t a consensus leader right now in the Republican party. The party is somewhat divided between the social and economic conservatives. And I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Republican Barack Obama arise -- I do not mean an African American Republican, that’s not going to happen. But I mean a surprise Republican. Some young or maybe not so young Republican who is unknown, but comes to the fore -- a Scott Brown, Massachusetts; a Bob McDonnell in Virginia. Because if you look at the old line leadership, and I don’t mean old in age, but those who are competing in 2008 -- Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, John McCain -- none of them really can pull together the party and be a consensus candidate. So I think it’s wide open in the Republican party for a surprise candidate. There’s already a Scott Brown for President Committee I think formed. [Laughter]. And he hasn’t even spent a day in Washington.

Question: Lalit Jha from Press Trust of India.

Can you give us also a sense of the Republican response to the State of the Union Address and why they selected Virginia Governor? Also you also mentioned about there could be no Barack Obama in the Republicans this time. What about Jindal? He also gave a response last time. What’s your impression about him?

Dr. Lichtman: The Republicans chose Bob McDonnell because of the very thing I’ve been talking about. They wanted a new face. They didn’t want one of the old divisive leaders about whom opinion has already crystallized. They wanted someone new and fresh. McDonnell is fresh off a victory in Virginia which everyone had talked about trending blue, and instead now Virginia seems to have moved more to the red side with his victory and the victory of the entire state ticket in Virginia. He’s very telekinetic, as you saw, and they consider him a rising star in the party.

However, it’s almost an impossible position to be put in to be giving the response, whether it’s a Republican giving the response to a Democrat or a Democrat giving the response to the Republican. You’re coming on late at night, everyone wanted to know what the President had to say. It’s very very difficult to have an audience and captivate the audience. I thought while McDonnell was telegenic, he didn’t say anything. There was no headline coming out of there. It was just kind of the old Republican mantra of lower taxes, less regulation, less government. Which is fine, but if you want to capture people’s imagination, you’ve got to do something more than that. He didn’t.

I thought it would have been a lot more interesting if he had given a direct counterpoint to what Obama did, rather than a kind of a set of Republican talking points.

Bobby Jindal really killed himself last year with that very poor response. He kind of went from a top five contender to perhaps a bottom 15 to 20 contender. I don’t think he’s on the radar screen right now for the Republican presidential nomination. And kind of once that happens to you, once you kind of get branded that way, it’s hard to have a second life in American politics. Although Richard Nixon did it.

Question: I’m Marcos Bassets from the Spanish Newspaper La Vanguardia.

I would like t know if you foresee a confrontation between Obama and the Supreme Court after this last event.

Dr. Lichtman: That’s a great question. Only one American President has served four terms and he won every one of his four elections overwhelmingly, none less than by about ten points. The one thing Franklin Delano Roosevelt couldn’t do was take on the Supreme Court of the United States. He tried. He had a whole plan, in 1937, right after he won with 60 percent of the vote, won every state but Maine and Vermont, he had a plan to reform and revamp the Supreme Court. It almost killed Franklin Roosevelt politically. He couldn’t even get his own Democratic party to support it. It’s absolutely poison to try to take on the Supreme Court in any substantial way.

Barack Obama did it rhetorically, and it was quite a rhetorical moment, but absolutely not. He’s not going to make the Franklin Roosevelt mistake and go after the Supreme Court. That would be political death to the President.

Question: [Inaudible] that the Congress might actually do something that he proposed?

Dr. Lichtman: What are the chances that Congress would do something? Not high. On anything.

You’re already seeing proposals in Congress, there are proposals at the state level as well. It wouldn’t be that hard to craft legislation. The Supreme Court has left the door open to that. That’s going to be really tough because the Republicans are going to, again, be pretty implacably opposed to it. They think this is a boon to Republicans who tend to be more business friendly than Democrats. Again, to get 60 votes for something in the U.S. Senate is going to be very very difficult and in an election year. So I think there’s going to be efforts, and maybe they’ll succeed, but I think it’s a tough road.

Question: There is factual question there about whether foreign money is allowed to --

Dr. Lichtman: That’s a great question.

Question: I’ve seen opinions mostly supporting the President’s point of view, no matter what Alito was muttering under his nose. But have you seen anything that would tilt one way or another?

Dr. Lichtman: I haven’t seen a hard poll on this. I think probably Obama politically has the better of the arguments, and I don’t see why foreign corporate money wouldn’t come into American elections. That’s always a hot button issue. Foreign interference in American elections. That really gets hot blooded Americans angry, even though we constantly interfere in foreign elections. We don’t like it to come back upon us. So I haven’t seen anyone make much of that issue yet, but that’s a pretty potent political issue.

Question: Andrei Sitov, ITAR-TASS. Generally foreign policy issues, you describe, we saw it. We didn’t really need someone describing it to us, maybe ten minutes of the speech on foreign policy. But what are you seeing as his foreign policy agenda, such as it is at this point?

Dr. Lichtman: It’s very hard to discern at this point. Obviously his biggest agenda is the one he set forth at the beginning of his term and for which he got the Nobel Peace Prize, like it or not, which is to move towards a more cooperative, multilateral, diplomatic approach to foreign policy, to open up dialogue even with so-called hostile rogue states like Iran, to adhere more closely than in the past to standards of international law and international conventions, and to make as a top priority the limitation and control of nuclear weapons and their spread around the world. That agenda has been a bit derailed, I think, by the escalation of the war in Afghanistan which kind of butts against a lot of what particularly many in his liberal Democratic base thought Barack Obama was all about. It’s been a bit derailed by the recent terrorism scare, the attempted bombing of the airliner. It’s been a bit derailed by the difficulties of dealing with Iran and North Korea and other nations. It’s been a bit derailed by the difficulty of closing down Guantanamo Bay. But the general direction of foreign policy is still a different one from that which we’ve seen over the past eight years.

Question: I’m from South Korea, Seung Koh, Yonhap News Agency.

You said that the Republican party has its own strategy to continue to oppose President Obama’s political agenda. In that circumstances, is it a good thing for President Obama to make some concessions? I mean that if he continues to make some concessions and the Republican party will continue to oppose and try to defeat him, I think it only contributed to the losing support from the labor party. So he has no political ground to depend on.

Dr. Lichtman: That’s always the dilemma, obviously, for any leader. To what extent do you shore up your base and to what extent do you reach out to the opposition and to those in the middle? I think we saw last night a bit of a strategy of making concessions and reaching out. His proposals on the economy. Some of which were fairly far-reaching, and obviously things Republicans will not support like moving to alternative energy, investment in high speed trains, and things of that nature. But there was a lot in there that Republicans, if they wanted to, could support. Tax credits for small businesses, putting some of the Wall Street money into community banks, capital gains tax reductions. Those are things you’ve heard Republicans in fat talk about.

So by doing that I think he’s essentially trying to achieve two things. One, maybe on some of these things Republicans will come around and they’ll actually have some accomplishments to go to the electorate with in 2010, and there is a bit of a pressure there. On the one hand, implacable opposition may serve the Republican party in general, but there are individual Republican Members of the House and Senate who have to go before the electorate in November, and maybe they want some accomplishments. So that’s one thing he might be angling for.

The other thing is if the Republicans oppose such moderate proposals which seem to have at least according to the snap polls overwhelming support from the American people he’d be in a better position to paint the Republicans as the party of obstruction and delay.

It’s harder to do that on health care because Republicans come back and say of course we should be opposed to health care because the American people are opposed to it. It would be a little bit harder on some of these other economic proposals that the President has come up with. That’s why I think he’s positioned himself the way he has, either hoping for some Republican support or for a credible way to discredit the opposition.

Question: Yuri Sigov, Business People. When you said that the biggest threat for Obama now basically, conservative Republicans and in his speech many things that he was mentioning, it’s just again the Republican position. Also one of the major threats for him is the big financial business in the United States.

Recently there was big criticism from Obama on people who got huge bonuses on the end of the last year. What do you think, how financial big business of the United States can really influence the current Obama economic policy?

Dr. Lichtman: Big business always has a tremendous influence on American policy, whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, for a host of reasons. Number one, if business isn’t functioning, jobs aren’t going to be created. Obama said that himself last night. It’s private enterprise that creates jobs. The government only creates a limited number of jobs. So if banks aren’t lending, if businesses aren’t investing, if businesses aren’t hiring, then there’s not much Barack Obama can do, is there, to really get the economy going?

So in the macro sense, business has tremendous power; and in the micro sense business has tremendous power because they are the primary source of campaign contributions and they are the primary source of lobbying in Washington. There are five or ten lobbyists at least for every single Member of the Congress of the United States on any given issue. That’s just on one issue. There’s 50 to 80 lobbyists overall, just in Washington for every single Member of the Congress and the Senate. It costs, to win a contested seat just for the U.S. House it can cost millions of dollars. For a big state Senate campaign it can cost tens of millions of dollars. If you're ambitious enough to run for President you need hundreds of millions of dollars. So obviously the major financial interests have enormous power over what goes on in government and it’s very difficult to do things that directly go up against what they want. The only time that’s ever happened in the history of the country was during the Great Depression when Franklin Roosevelt --

Question: [Inaudible] between the big business and President Obama, will financial big business of the United States make more and more pressure on American --

Dr. Lichtman: Absolutely. They don’t want these regulations. Now with this new Supreme Court decision they have a lot more political power since they can now spend as much as they want on political ads and other political activities. What did Exxon make last year? Something on the order of $40 billion in profits. If they took a fraction of one percent of that they’d control a lot of American politics.

Question: Zoltan Mikes. My question is regarding health care, and it would be about public option. Do you think that Mr. Obama really wanted to have public option, or he didn’t want it because of big business and because of further donations? And then do you think that he will return one time with this public option, maybe in the second term when he will not be dependent on the opinions of health insurance companies and so on?

Dr. Lichtman: You asked me two impossible questions. One, what Obama really wants in his heart of hearts and two, what he’s going to do in his second term that he hasn’t even been elected to as yet.

Let me say, no one early knows what goes on behind closed doors and what Obama really wants. I do think he wanted the public option, but with the necessity of 60 votes in the Senate, he had to bring in Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman and Blanche Lincoln and Mary Landrieu and that was simply not going to happen. It might, of course, reappear in the second term, depending on the composition of the Congress, but it’s going to take a lot of votes in the Congress to get that through.

Question: Melissa Cabo, Telam, Argentina.

I would like to know which [inaudible] scenario in these mid-term elections in November? What you think the scenario is going to be?

Dr. Lichtman: Well, I think the scenario depends on the economy. If the economy -- Obviously there’s still going to be high unemployment in the economy, but if the economy is at least on the up-swing, and particularly if Obama can get a few of his proposals through, I think the Democrats will sustain some losses, but will still keep solid control of both Houses of the Congress.

Presidential parties in mid-term elections almost always sustain losses. The only exceptions in American history were three -- 1934, Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal; 1998, in the middle of the impeachment crisis; and 2002 after the whole patriotic surge after 9/11. Very difficult to avoid losses. So I think under the best of circumstances the Democrats will sustain some losses. Under the worst of circumstances, everything continues to be gridlocked in Washington; there’s a new economic meltdown, another banking crisis or a spike in unemployment. Then I think the Republicans have a chance, not to take the Senate, but to way cut down the Democratic majority in the Senate, and maybe to come close or even take the House. It all depends on circumstance at this point.

Question: Zoltan Mikes. How much do you think Obama is serious about his quote that he would like to be a good one term president than a mediocre two term president? Is his ambition really, is he able to govern just one term and not two?

Dr. Lichtman: That one I can answer. He’s not serious at all because there aren’t successful one-term presidents. I take that back. There’s been one successful one-term president in the history of the country, probably someone you’ve never heard of -- James K. Polk who governed in the 1840s who fought the Mexican War and negotiated with the British to give the United States what are now the states of Washington and Oregon. It’s the only example, and that’s what, 160 or so years old.

By definition, if you govern well in your first term, you get a second term. By definition, if you govern poorly in your first term, you don’t get a second term. It’s not the Herbert Hoovers, the William Howard Tafts, and the Jimmy Carters that we tend to remember the one term president. It’s the Theodore Roosevelts, the Franklin Roosevelts and the Ronald Reagans, the two-term presidents that we remember. So that statement is almost an oxymoron. It’s almost self-contradictory.

Question: Marcos Bassets. I want to go back to the job priority, the job agenda. To what point is just a slogan, a sound byte? He had a very [inaudible] agenda the first year with the stimulus package. It was the hugest in the American history. Now it’s little measures, community banks, tax incentives. Is that a job agenda, or is he just waiting for the economy to revive --

Dr. Lichtman: Bingo. I think he’s mostly waiting for the economy to revive by itself.

Look, as you say, even the big initiatives, $800 billion, the biggest spending bill in U.S. history, didn’t do a whole lot to revive the economy. A president can nudge the economy, he can coax it a little bit, but he said himself, there’s no magic button a president can press to control the economy. So I think he has come up with modest proposals, and a slim chance of getting enacted, and I think for the most part he is counting on the natural upswing of the business cycle to produce recovery, not anything the government is going to do.

Question: Andre Sitov, again.

I wanted to come back tom y questions. When I was asking about the foreign policy agenda I was mostly, I had in mind what’s feasible. Not what he wants to do. Obviously he doesn’t have any capital, I would say, that he wants to spend on that.

Dr. Lichtman: No.

Question: Right. But what’s feasible in terms of maybe having a success? Making an achievement? And what would be palatable to the American public and to the Congress?

Dr. Lichtman: Something in nuclear proliferation, negotiations are underway with Russia right now which could beat some significant fruit. That would be a big accomplishment for the President.

Getting out of Iraq. He said he was going to get us out of Iraq. If he actually does that and the troops really come home, that’s going to be a big accomplishment for Obama. And getting out of Afghanistan. He said he’s going to do that in 2011. If he actually fulfills that promise, and Afghanistan even seems remotely stable, and remotely viable, that will be a big success for him.

So there are possibilities. They’re not all that much in his control. I mean foreign policy is a great paradox for American presidents. It’s an area where you can operate pretty much free of Congress. They don’t have to go to Congress to do all these things, but it’s also area over which you have very limited control because events tend to follow their own course.

Thank you all.

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