President Barack Obama was right in his speech in Galesburg, Ill. – in which he invoked the middle class no less than 25 times – to start work on the 2014 mid-term election. He was in effect campaigning against the Republicans in the House of Representatives, while praising “a growing number of Republican senators” who “are trying to get things done.” The Democrats, in contrast, were mentioned only briefly.
Mr. Obama said that gridlock in the Congress is getting worse, and at times blamed “Washington,” as if he did not live and work there himself. If the politics of the capital city of the United States are so deplorable, he will have to depend on the next congressional election to accomplish most of his program. Taken at face value, the Obama administration’s reported aspiration to reset the national debate could hardly be successful, unless the Republicans lose their majority in the House – or are brought to tremble in fear that they will do so, as a result of the next confrontation over the budget.
It is true that Mr. Obama did invoke his executive authority – “Some of these ideas .... I will pursue on my own” – but those powers are mostly based on existing legislation; such actions do not add up to a whole program. In particular, his promise to take action to enable “responsible families” to get mortgages when “the bank says no” had a demagogic tinge.
Mr. Obama’s comments on immigration reform – recently passed in the Senate, rejected by the refractory House – were pertinent to his middle-class theme; he observed that if the status of undocumented workers were regularized, their income-tax payments would put Social Security – the U.S. public pension plan – on a far more solid basis.
Speaking tours have their value, but they are no substitute for personal diplomacy in Washington, in which Mr. Obama has shown little willingness to engage.