Obama Has Changed The Debate

Douthat imagines how the left and right will respond to the president:

[Obama’s] influence over Clinton’s campaign will depend on economic trends and foreign policy developments as well as her own choices: If he’s climbed to a 47-48 percent approval rating by early 2016, I wouldn’t expect there to be any daylight between his agenda and her platform; if he falls back toward 40 percent (or drops below) amid some unlooked-for crisis, then no presidential speech is likely to constrain Hillary from trying to charting a more post-Obama course.

Meanwhile, the future relevance of his stab at a middle class agenda will be determined in part by whatever the G.O.P. comes up with for its post-Obama blueprint. If you contrast what was on offer last night with some of the ideas that, say, Utah Senator Mike Lee has proposed, there’s a very interesting right-left debate to be had around higher education reform, tax reform (family-friendly and otherwise), and other issues as well. But maybe the eventual Republican nominee will have a very different game plan, and the big clashes will end up happening elsewhere. Or maybe the mere fact that Obama has touched these issues will prompt the right to retreat to “safer” (that is, staler) ground.

Joe Klein appreciates Obama’s political deftness:

There were twin sources of the white flight from the Democratic party. One was the sense that Democrats were only interested in taking money from people like the Erlers and giving it to deadbeats, or feeding the government bureaucracy, personified by the post office stereotype: slow-moving, sullen, entitled. The other was a matter of values: the Democrats were the counterculture party, an argument that is evaporating as the culture has moved on, accepting homosexuality, premarital sex and, soon, marijuana. The first argument remains strong, though. It was what propelled the Republican victory in 2014. Obamacare was perceived as classic “liberalism”—it took money from hard-working Americans and gave it to unhealthy deadbeats. Only it didn’t: it gave subsidies to the working poor; the indigent were already covered by Medicaid.

The striking thing about Obama’s latest round of proposals is how targeted they are: the centerpiece tax reforms take money from the wealthy and give it to middle-class taxpayers, people like the Erlers. You have to actually pay taxes to benefit from tax credits (except for the child care deduction, which becomes a stipend for those who don’t). Even his free community college proposal might have been a boon to Rebekah, as she struggled to learn accounting. This is quite the opposite of offering health insurance to a country that was already 85% covered. It is middle-class populism: money is taken from the wealthy and given to a broad swath of the population whose incomes have been stagnating for 30 years.

Alec MacGillis feels that Obama has called “the bluff of the Republicans now claiming the mantle of inequality warriors”:

The [Obama tax] proposal has led them into a political trap, prompting them into an instinctual, reflexive defense of the wealthiest Americans. And it has thereby clarified the discussions to come on the campaign trail over the next year and a half. Talk all you want about restoring shared prosperity, Obama is saying, but this is the kind of reform it will take to bring balance to an economy that has gotten so top-heavy and out of whack. The proposal will implicitly admonish not only Republicans but also Hillary Clinton, should her own Wall Street sympathies and upper-bracket aspirations keep her from adopting an aggressive platform to tackle inequality.

And Beinart detects a “fracturing of the GOP message”:

Mike Huckabee looks determined to run on cultural decline. Jeb Bush and even Mitt Romney want to focus on using government to help the poor. Every potential candidate except Rand Paul will likely promise defense hikes and a more aggressive, militaristic foreign policy. And every potential GOP candidate, including Rand Paul, will likely unveil a big tax cut, probably unmatched by real reductions in spending.