OK, it wasn’t exactly a “mandate,” you know. Yes, the president won re-election, and if you check the Electoral College tally it was pretty decisive. But the popular vote was actually pretty close.
That’s not stopping O, though.
He’s diving into the congressional mosh pit like a guy with nothing to lose – which he doesn’t. This is it. No matter what happens this term, this is Barack Obama’s last time as president.
So he’s throwing down challenges right and left, puffin’ up his chest and trash-talking like he’s stepping into the cage for an MMA match.
Take yesterday’s news conference.
The president comes out swinging. He lays out what by anybody’s measure – even his own, probably – is a pretty ambitious agenda.
First up: Immigration. He’s doing it this time, he says. He’s already talking to legislative leaders, getting them started.
“My expectation is that we … begin the process in Congress, very soon after my inauguration,” Obama told reporters.
You could almost hear him saying, “Take that, Mitt Romney! You’ve been self-deported!”
Of course, it helps that the Republicans kind of have their tails tucked between their legs right now, after the thumping they got on Election Day. Those isolated voices in the GOP wilderness that talked about softening the immigration rhetoric seem to have finally gained an audience. Even House Speaker John Boehner says immigration reform is “long overdue.”
But Big O didn’t stop there.
He’s facing the “fiscal cliff” and saying, “Make my day.”
He’s got the advantage, again, because he knows that the Republicans know that recent polls show they’re the ones that will be blamed if the budget goes off the rails and over the edge.
So, that taxation talk – the “raise ‘em for the wealthy” thing – he’s sticking to it.
The Republicans offered up a possible compromise. They said they’d be willing to close some loopholes for the rich. But O said no.
“But when it comes to the top 2 percent, what I’m not going to do is to extend further a tax cut for folks who don’t need it, which would cost close to a trillion dollars. And it’s very difficult to see how you make up that trillion dollars, if we’re serious about deficit reduction, just by closing loopholes and deductions,” he told the reporters at the news conference. “The math tends not to work.”
And then, the gauntlet.
“The only question now is, are we going to hold the middle class hostage in order to go ahead and let that happen?” he said.
Oh, and the trash talk?
“If there was one thing that everybody understood, that was a big difference between myself and Mr. Romney, it was when it comes to how we reduce our deficit, I argued for a balanced, responsible approach — and part of that included making sure that the wealthiest Americans pay a little bit more,” he said. “By the way, more voters agreed with me on this issue than voted for me.”
Boom goes the dynamite!
Believe it or not, he wasn’t done. Not yet.
O is pushing U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. Wednesday morning, a few hours before Obama’s presser, the man he beat to become president, Sen. John McCain, held a news conference of his own. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, McCain’s closest ally, joined him.
Together, they blasted Rice over her statements blaming an anti-Muslim film for the Benghazi attack that killed four Americans.
McCain vowed that he and Graham “will do whatever’s necessary to block the nomination that’s within our power as far as Susan Rice is concerned.”
O puffed up like an angry big brother defending his kid sister from the neighborhood bullies.
“If Sen. McCain and Sen. Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me. And I’m happy to have that discussion with them. But for them to go after the U.N. ambassador, who had nothing to do with Benghazi, and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received, and to besmirch her reputation is outrageous.”
That was just the wind-up.
“When they go after the U.N. ambassador, apparently because they think she’s an easy target, then they’ve got a problem with me,” he said.
Rice must have been grinning ear to ear when she heard it.
Of course, it’s all a calculated political dance. The truth is, Obama has to move fast. The president knows he’s got a little political capital to spend, but that runs out quickly. And he knows the Republicans are smarting from the election and trying to figure out what they should be doing if they want to keep their party from becoming a historical footnote.
But they’re not going to roll over forever.
So O may be talking tough now, but if he doesn’t get the things he wants done in short order, he’ll be remembered as the first black president – who squandered his second term.