Obama’s High-Risk High-Reward Two-Term Strategy

Andrew Sullivan —  Jun 11 2012 @ 2:07pm


Scott Galupo hypothesizes

Let’s assume that the Supreme Court overturns the Affordable Care Act in full; there would go Obama’s signature domestic achievement. He achieved no significant fiscal reforms. He extended the Bush tax cuts… Obama has perhaps accelerated America’s exit from the quagmires of Iraq and Afghanistan. His rhetoric sounds different than his predecessor’s. … In the big picture, we’re left with a stimulus whose impact on the economy, whatever it was, has washed out completely; the tepid Dodd-Frank reforms of Wall Street; and a public affirmation of same-sex marriage.

Yes. As I've noted, few first-term presidents have achieved so much so tenuously. But all of this is a function of two things: first, the crushing burden of grappling with an economy in a tailspin and two wars in which victory was not easily defined (but getting the hell out of Iraq and killing much of al Qaeda and bin Laden is about as good as anyone would have forecast); and second, the long-game strategy for lasting change. Obama cannot really leave his mark until this December when much of his fiscal strategizing against the GOP since 2010 will reach a moment of truth. Ditto Iran – also reaching a critical tipping point; and the actual implementation of universal healthcare – if it survives SCOTUS. And if you think Dodd-Frank was tepid, wait till the Romney-Ryan era and Wall Street will be back to the casino in no time.

There's a painful irony in all this: Obama's legacy, more than most presidents, will be measured by his second term, because so many of his first-term initiatives depend on a second. Without a second term, it could all be washed away – to Romney's enormous benefit

Romney is on track, if elected, to enter the Oval Office with a stronger wind at his back than many of its previous occupants, including Obama. And that, more than anything else, may be what’s at stake in this election, at least for the combatants themselves. Like him or not, Obama has already done a lot of the hardest, dirtiest jobs on America’s 2009 to-do list. If he’s reelected in November, he gets the chance to preserve (and, finally, enjoy) the fruits of his labors: an improving economy, a universal health-care system, a safer war on terror, perhaps even that elusive deficit deal. Meanwhile, if Romney wins, he gets to build his presidency on ground his predecessor has very conveniently cleared for him—and Obama’s achievements go unrealized or uncredited. 

Obama's long game was always a high-risk high-reward strategy. And this is when the nail-biting starts in earnest.

(Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty.)