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Thu Feb 14, 2013, 10:43 AM

Obama’s 2024 Strategy - by Michael Tomasky

by Michael Tomasky Feb 14, 2013 4:45 AM EST

It’s true that much of what he called for in his SOTU isn’t going to happen in the next four years. But maybe, says Michael Tomasky, Obama is seeking a different kind of victory.

There’s an old joke in the politics world about mayors and governors who’d never approve a highway project that might take more than three years out of mortal fear that they might not be around to don the sash and cut the ribbon. Whatever problems Barack Obama has, he doesn’t have that one. A lot of commentators are amusing themselves by pointing out that very few of Obama’s long list of State of the Union goals are likely to make it into law while he’s in office. I say that seeing as how he’s a pretty smart man, he knows this. But he’s doing it anyway. Because he’s thinking more about history than his story, and because he understands that if he wants to be a transformational president, the change he initiates is going to have to continue well past his time—and yes, the great presidents have all thought this way.

The conventional wisdom is that the speech was a wish list, a Christmas list. I think that metaphor says more about the metaphorer than it does about Obama. If anyone understands the brutal reality of Capitol Hill, after what he went through those first four years, I’d reckon it’s Obama. My dear mother, a normally refined woman who nevertheless enjoyed a little earthy West Virginia humor, used to love the saying “wish in one hand and shit in the other and see which one gets filled faster.” Obama has seen enough of the latter from the Republicans to know that the former is a waste of time.

What is not a waste of time, however, is using your pulpit as president of the United States to lay out a vision for the sort of society you would like to see America become. Barack Obama is going to retire in January 2017, but history isn’t likely to end then. Obama knows that fighting climate change and getting universal pre-school and doing something to help the working poor are big jobs, long jobs. They’re certainly not going to happen under the current legislative configuration, and they’re probably not going to happen while he’s in office.

But they are going to happen. Even the knuckle-draggers will realize at some point in the future that climate change is real and something must be done. Universal or near-universal pre-school is a fact of life in most OECD countries, and someday it will come to pass in this one. And, someday, our country won’t be half-run by a bunch of lickspittles for global capital who think people earning the minimum wage just need to show a little gumption and responsibility. Yes, these things will happen, and when they do, a grateful country will look back in time and recognize the president who was the first to take these issues seriously (or in the case of the minimum wage, the first in a long time to give the issue such prominence).



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