There is no permanence in politics. Democrats patting themselves on the back at a job well done will at some point be drowning their sorrows in beer as Republicans again talk about their ridiculous fantasy of a permanent Republican majority (this time without steel tariffs).
People shift over time. Pendulums swing. And in the age of instantly lame ducked Presidents upon their swearing in for a second term, discord has ways of getting the best of any political party.
Conservatives who rallied to George W. Bush through No Child Left Behind, steel tariffs, Medicare Part D, Harriet Miers, etc. stood with him until the end. Many held on through TARP and the auto bailout and immigration, unable to see the fractures or trying to will them away. Now the GOP is dealing with the fall out of that legacy.
Consider the suspicion conservative groups have of Bush’s architect, Karl Rove, starting a new group supposedly to support “the most electable conservative”. Conservatives are still trying to work their way back out of the Republican Party and stand up on their own again.
With the 22nd amendment, a President’s second term is about securing his legacy. His party has no chance to throw him out in a third term primary. So the party rallies to make the best of it and help him secure his legacy. It happened with Reagan and Clinton and the second Bush. It is happening now with Barack Obama.
We should not ignore, though, that there is a disturbance in the Democratic force.
Progressives want to stick with Barack Obama because they perceive him as one of them and expect he will push their progressive agenda as best he can. But some progressives are deeply worried about his drone war. They are worried about civil liberties. They are worried that he is, and in fact he really is, to the right of George W. Bush on this issue. The progressive agenda conflicts with his civil liberties stance.
This is but one example. If the President pushes forward with any entitlement reforms or anything else that looks to be in the direction of the GOP, the fractures will exacerbate. If he does not, he risks the public who supposedly wants compromise looking at him as too uncompromising in the same way they’ve looked at the GOP. He cannot afford the public getting tired of him, but he also cannot afford his party growing weary of his positions.
This all puts him in a precarious position. Made worse, as he adds new faces to his cabinet, he is not adding men of particular policy depth, but more men of the same persuasion. That will lessen debate. That will lessen the ability to think outside narrow parameters.
In second terms, people grow weary who have been there a while. The A team gets replaced by the B team, which in turn gets replaced by the C team. Then you get Iran Contra, blue dresses in the Oval Office, U.S. Attorneys being fired in suspicious looking ways, etc. The President has tried to make an academic study of how not to have a bad second term. The problem is his policies will not be up for debate within his own party. His legacy will be preserved. Then, in 2016, it will be Democratic Party voters who will be forced into a great sorting as they decide whether to stay the course or fight over a new one.
Permanent majorities are fleeting. The coalition that swept him into office and kept him there is not yet the Democrats’ coalition. They do not consider themselves Democrats, but progressives. They are not of one mind on all issues. And all those issues will be at stake in 2016.