Pumped-up Obama takes tougher line with series of reforms

By Paul Harris

First lady Michelle Obama and daughters Sasha (centre) and Malia at the "Our Children, Our Future" event in Washington at the weekend. Photo / AP
First lady Michelle Obama and daughters Sasha (centre) and Malia at the "Our Children, Our Future" event in Washington at the weekend. Photo / AP

When firebrand Republican senator Ted Cruz went on conservative Laura Ingraham's radio show last week, the topic of conversation swiftly turned to Barack Obama.

As the President prepares to be inaugurated tomorrow for a second term, Cruz, who is a Tea Party favourite freshly elected from Texas, let loose with both barrels: "He is feeling right now high on his own power!" he fumed.

Cruz was particularly angry about Obama's plan to enforce tighter gun controls. But the President appears to be preparing a whole series of reforms that will raise the ire of the right.

He has vowed action on immigration, hinted that he will try to tackle climate change, and has already taken a much tougher line with Republicans on fiscal issues, forcing them to agree to a tax rise for the wealthy.

For many, it seems Obama has been reinvigorated by his victory.

"Maybe we now get to see what Obama would have been like if there had been no financial crisis," said Professor Shaun Bowler, a political scientist at the University of California at Riverside.

Obama is likely to strike quickly as the honeymoon period for second terms usually lasts little longer than a year before considerations of the 2014 mid-term elections loom into view.

Indeed, he has already done so. After being widely criticised in his first four years for a lack of savvy during negotiations with the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, Obama has suddenly taken a much harder line. In debates over the so-called "fiscal cliff" of tax hikes and spending cuts at the end of last year, Obama's team secured a deal widely seen as a victory.

That tougher stance has also been matched by Obama staking out a firm line on forthcoming talks with the Republicans in Congress over raising the debt ceiling. It marks an apparent shift in Obama's view of the presidency, from one where he has to act as a conciliator to one where he can lead from the front.

"He has made noises that he is going to give up his old theory of the presidency and he is going to now use it as a 'bully pulpit'," said Professor James Josefson, a political scientist at Bridgewater College in Virginia.

It has also won Obama praise among his party's supporters and advisers. "He will decide what he wants to do and he will just do it. He's going to push ahead," said Ted Kaufman, a former Democratic senator from Delaware.

Republicans may be able to block a great deal of Obama's second-term agenda, but on a host of things - from gun controls to gay rights to abortion and women's issues - they are frequently seen as far to the right of mainstream public opinion.

"Obama is either going to win on these issues legislatively or he is going to win on them in the arena of public opinion," Bowler said. "He is going to have a year of success ahead of him either way, even if it ends up being just as much appearances as substance."


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