Obama's secret plan for a successful presidency

The Mickey Kaus thesis: First pass healthcare reform, then lose the midterm elections

By Andrew Leonard

Published October 16, 2009 7:29PM (EDT)

Mickey Kaus says everything is falling into place for a successful Obama presidency. Except that, in the best Mickey Kaus tradition, his thesis is so drenched with contrarian posing that the definition of a "successful" Obama presidency means the abandonment of most of the policy goals Democrats have for his term.

The Kaus thesis is predicated on Obama getting healthcare reform passed, after which the Democrats get clobbered by a still-crippled economy in the 2010 midterm elections. That, in turn, will mean that the rest of the "controversial big Dem bills that got backed up in 2010" -- climate change, card-check, immigration reform -- will die stillborn.

However: "Without a new wave of low-wage immigrants drawn by legalization, meanwhile, the labor market eventually grows tight enough at the bottom to finally raise wages as the economy grows --just in time for Obama's 2012 campaign."

Following his election to a new term, like Clinton before him, Obama will then be forced to turn his attention to balancing the budget, helped by Republican intransigence on spending.

Having Newt Gingrich in charge of the House allowed Clinton to push off against Republican excess, tame his own party's demands, and actually balance the budget. The difference with Obama is that unlike Clinton he will have accomplished his main goal -- health care reform -- first, before the drawbridge goes up.

It's all going according to plan.

The Kaus analysis manages to be simultaneously silly and insightful. Of course this is not the plan. Obama's "plan" is to get as much legislation as he can passed, while working under the incredible constraints of a serious economic downturn and a legislative process that for all practical purposes appears to be broken, or at least hopelessly compromised by special interests. And for what it's worth, HTWW predicts that a climate change bill will pass before the midterms. If the Democrats don't use their power while they have it, they deserve to lose control of Congress anyway.

But the fundamental analysis, which is that the unemployment picture next year will determine the midterm election results, which in turn will shape the remainder of the Obama presidency, seems on the money. If Obama's critics from the left are correct, and the stimulus wasn't big enough to ensure sustained growth in that time period, political trouble will brew.

But there's definitely another scenario. Unemployment could easily peak sometime around next spring. If Obama gets healthcare reform and a climate change bill passed, and unemployment starts to fall, and a double-dip recession does not materialize, then all the pundits who are currently talking about a Republican landslide in the House may end up sorely disappointed.

And that, I'd be willing to bet, is the real plan.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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2010 Elections Barack Obama Healthcare Reform How The World Works