Look to the states
There’s long been speculation about what President Obama will be doing after January 20, 2017.
Much of it has centered around ideas connected with the international scene, particularly the UN and the post of Secretary-General. But by custom, that position has never been filled by anyone who is a citizen of a Security Council nation, so it’s a career trajectory that’s highly unlikely for Obama.
What’s more, about a month ago Obama himself expressed some thoughts on the subject of his plans. To understand what he might have been referring to, it helps to take a look at the results of the Obama years, not on the international level but at the local level of the states.
During Obama’s presidency, the Republicans have pretty much taken over at the state level, as this chart illustrates:
Republicans will control 4,170 state legislative seats after last week’s elections, while Democrats will control 3,129 seats in the nation’s 98 partisan legislative chambers. Republicans picked up a net gain of 46 seats in Tuesday’s elections…
“Republicans have been working for this moment for years, to have a federal government with Republican majorities and now at the state level,” said David Avella, who heads GOPAC, a group that grooms young legislative candidates. “We have to deliver on breaking down barriers to job creation, we have to deliver on putting more money in people’s pockets through tax cuts and through higher wages.”
Remember that last sentence, though, because I don’t think the Democrats have: you must show results, and good ones, or people are likely to reject you. Reality still overcomes imagology, at least for now.
Note the final sentence in this excerpt:
Since Obama took office, Republicans have captured control of 27 state legislative chambers Democrats held after the 2008 elections. The GOP now controls the most legislative seats it has held since the founding of the party.
Since the founding of the party; that’s astounding.
I’ve noticed that, during the bulk of his presidency when Obama has talked about his legacy, he hasn’t seemed to acknowledge this particular aspect of it. If he did, I missed it. But it seems as though the state level losses will be the focus, or at least a big focus, of his immediate post-presidency energies:
The Democratic Party, “in close consultation with the White House,” has launched a new political group “which will coordinate campaign strategy, direct fundraising, organize ballot initiatives and put together legal challenges to state redistricting maps,” Politico reported Monday [a month ago]. Former Attorney General Eric Holder will chair the new group, named the National Democratic Redistricting Committee. And Obama himself, as Politico writes, has “identified the group … as the main focus of his political activity once he leaves office.” The group will focus on the “gubernatorial, state legislative and House races” in 2018 and 2020 that will determine the design of the next congressional redistricting maps.
Why would Obama concern himself with such seemingly small-fry politics? One reason could be tradition: Ex-presidents like to give their successors room to breathe, so hieing off to state-level battles is one way for Obama to remain active without meddling in the day-to-day grind of national politics. The other, more important reason is that control of state legislatures is in no way small-fry politics. By throwing his name behind the effort, Obama is trying to fix the colossal infrastructural damage his party sustained under his tenure: the Republican state-level domination—and thus congressional domination—achieved first in the midterms of 2010 and iced in 2014.
The article goes on to describe Obama as attributing these losses at the state level to gerrymandering rather than any actual failing by Democratic leadership (you may have noticed that this meme has been taken up in the MSM, too). Obama also describes it—as he does almost every problem he has encountered with public opinion during his presidency—as a problem with messaging and communication. Although the article is Obama-friendly, even the author seems to recognize what Obama does not (or at least does not publicly acknowledge), which is that the loss wasn’t all about districting or messaging:
[Obama’s] explanation is a self-flattering one: We were just so busy implementing perfect policies that we forgot to communicate them properly. One doubts that a more cleverly crafted party message—nipping and tucking an adjective here or there in public speeches—would have overridden the factors that led to Democrats’ catastrophic 2010 losses. The flat economy, the party-line stretch to pass the Affordable Care Act, the gravitational pull that was bound to drag Democrats down to Earth after their big successes in the 2006 and 2008 congressional elections.
That’s hardly an exhaustive list, either.
I wonder if Obama is able to acknowledge his actual failures, and not just the “communication” and districting ones, even to himself. I tend to doubt it. It does seem, though, that unlike many ex-presidents, he plans to stay very active in party politics, although not in an elective office.
[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]