On the night President Obama won re-election, he employed the same soaring rhetoric about a unified America that first won him national attention and that he's sure to trot out in his second inaugural speech on Monday.
He talked that night about how "despite our differences, most of us share certain hopes for America's future," and how he was "looking forward to reaching out and working with leaders of both parties to meet the challenges we can only solve together.
He promised that "we are not as divided as our politics suggests," and "not as cynical as the pundits believe.
And he claimed that "whether I earned your vote or not, I have listened to you. I have learned from you." It was all so soothing and heartfelt.
But if you want to know how Obama will actually govern in his second term, forget about these well-crafted speeches, and pay attention instead to what he said at his press conference a few days ago.
There he made it clear for anyone with ears to hear that his goal isn't to achieve some kind of grand unity to tackle the nation's toughest challenges.
No. Obama's No. 1 goal in his second term is to do whatever it takes to destroy Republicans and win back Democratic control of the House in 2014, giving him two more years to enact his agenda without any GOP meddling.
America Held Hostage
Republicans, he said at that press conference, are holding "a gun at the head of the American people," and are threatening either to "gut Medicare" or "wreck the entire economy.
He said Republicans are "suspicious about government's commitments to make sure that seniors have decent health care (and) have suspicions about whether government should make sure that kids in poverty are getting enough to eat.
He described the GOP position on the debt ceiling as "either we get our way a hundred percent of the time or otherwise, you know, we are going to default on America's obligations.
You simply don't bludgeon people you're trying to work with.
Next, consider Obama's actions since winning re-election.
Instead of living up to his campaign promise to focus on jobs, the economy and the national debt, he's pushing hugely divisive issues — gun control, immigration, global warming — or in-your-face nominees like Chuck Hagel.
Picking A FightOn gun control, Obama could have worked to reach consensus on reforms that might actually improve safety, but instead produced an aggressive gun-control plan guaranteed to force a nasty fight with the GOP.
Obama barely mentioned immigration reform during his campaign, but suddenly put it at the top of his agenda because he knows he can use it to hurt Republicans.
His refusal to hold any talks over the debt limit makes little sense, until you realize that he hopes to force the GOP either to concede to his wishes — and alienate its Tea Party base — or fail to raise the debt limit and get blamed for any economic fallout that ensues.
Obama's decision to nominate Hagel as secretary of defense makes no sense, either, except that it will let Obama paint Republicans who oppose defense cuts as mindless extremists.
As long-time political observer Michael Barone put it, "Barack Obama begins his second term with a strategy to defeat and humiliate Republicans rather than a strategy to govern.
He's right. And Obama is smart enough to know that the press, always on the lookout for any whiff of Republican hypocrisy, will give him a free pass for being blatantly hypocritical.
The only question is whether Republicans understand what Obama is up to. Because if they still operate under the delusion that Obama actually wants to achieve consensus, bring the country together or do any of the other things he'll claim at his inaugural, they risk handing Obama the real prize he's after.
- Politics & Government