Saturday, July 13, 2013

Girding Towards Inevitable War?

Back from Monsoon soaked India vacation, as I try to understand what Republicans in Congress are up to; I see that things do not look any promising. Not that things are any better politically in India as her currency continues its downfall against Dollar and multiple candidates like Mayawati, Niteesh Kumar, Mulayam Singh Yadav (implicitly, if not overtly) continue to throw their hats in the contest for the next prime minister. May be Sonia Gandhi's Congress does not have to do anything as these third party candidates fight among themselves as well as against the presumptive BJP nominee Narendra Modi. Possibly we are in two stage scenario as far as Indian Politics goes - an unstable Third Party dominated (non-Congress and non-BJP) government after 2014 elections (or even 2013 early elections if Congress thinks that 'good Monsoon' is enough to risk Sonia's gaddi) as a semi-final; followed by another general election in an year or so whereby Indians flock to a stable arrangement of either Narendra Modi or Sonia Gandhi in response to unstable Third Party contraption. In a sense, India is due for a bout of instability, circa Janata Party 1977-80 or Jantal Dal 1989-91 or Gowda-IK Gujral musical chairs era of 1996-98. I foresee two steps process towards stability in India because currently I do not sense that majority of Indians have equivocally coalesced behind either Narendra Modi or Sonia Gandhi. No wonder Indian Rupee is in free fall. But I digress. 

Talking with friends back in India with interest in American Politics, general impression is President Obama should have fought the election of 2012 not just as his re-election campaign but a campaign against intransigence of Tea Party as the principle obstructionist force to stop real 'change in America'. But President Obama did not campaign like that while Republicans fervently campaigned to stop 'big Federal Government'; ObamaCare being the poster child of such government intrusion in private lives. 

One can argue that President Obama, with his back to the wall for his own re-election, was simply not in a position to campaign as a parliamentary leader to elect larger Democratic majority in Congress. In any case, the time to plot Congressional majority was when Republicans were winning Governorship and State legislatures immediately after 2010 census which resulted in gerrymandering of Congressional districts. When Majority in House actually gets less popular votes than Minority, we know that American Politics is 'upside down' so far as representing 'will of people' goes.

Given all that, the question is what can Democrats do now? President Obama, as the head of Democratic Party, plotted the strategy of 'staying away from critical legislation like immigration' as a nod to the reality that Presidential involvement polarizes politics. (Immigration bill is essentially an economic policy here as CBO has said it would essentially bring around Trillion Dollars to Federal Budget while hyper Republicans are essentially making immediate border security tasks as a mini stimulus by way of pouring tens of billions of dollars.) 

President Obama had the luxury to get involved in Congressional brawl while rescinding Bush Tax Cuts because Republicans simply had no choice due to 'sun set provisions'. Next, Republicans postponed debt ceiling fight for later months while President Obama simply conceded grounds for sequester as he did not have any leverage in that fight. 

The principle pivotal point for President Obama is whether he wants to insert himself in the 'immigration debate' knowing fully well polarization ripple effects of presidential involvement. Basically, if House does not take the immigration bill with a concrete provision to provide amnesty to a large number of illegal immigrants; all bets are off. It will be as clear an indication as possible of end of bi-partisanship as well as end of 'staying away' from the debate for White House. 

As things stand, Tea Party is clearly gunning for such confrontation with President Obama even though 'turning back on amnesty' is essentially a death knell for the Republican Party. Separating SNAP component from Farm Bill, is the opening gambit by Tea Party in this coming war. Budget fights and Debt Ceiling increase - Tea Party will ensure that all those will coalesce with Immigration fights and other confrontations by late Fall or year end. That is when one would expect all these building 'tensions' to explode on American Political Scene. That is the precise backdrop President Obama must utilize to confront Tea Party and explain their 'destructive agenda' to Americans. President Obama must leverage that debate to make the case to Americans - gerrymandering or not - unless Americans reject this fetish of 'bi-partisanship' and elect parliamentary majorities; nothing of consequence is going to get enacted. If Tea Party errs on the side of  destabilizing American (and Global) Economy in the zeal of fighting for Debt Ceiling increase; President Obama  will have it easy to make such a case to Americans as Tea Party would have further discredited itself. (And then there is unfinished business of Revenue Increase, which is getting lost as budget deficit continues to improve.)

The political task for President Obama, as a head of Democratic Party and as a politician who wants to bequeath a relevant legacy for future Democratic leaders; is to convince Americans that 'old style bi-partisanship' does not deliver anything useful to Americans when we have an entrenched political force like Tea Party which believes 'no government' in any case is a solution for America's problems and propounds 'governance nihilism'. Success and failure in this arduous task will determine legacy of Obama Presidency. 

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