February 26, 2013 – Political analyst Michael Tomasky, who writes for Newsweek and The Daily Beast, spoke to the Shorenstein Center about President Obama's legacy, and how it compares to Reagan's.
There is not a clear comparison yet, Tomasky said, but he acknowledged that as Reagan shifted the “political gravity” to the right, Obama has shifted it back to the center left. While Reagan's election and the conservative takeover of Congress in 1980 was clearly a realignment of America’s political makeup, Tomasky said, it is unclear if Obama's win will be just as realigning – "it depends on what the Democrats do with this new majority," he said.
No doubt the administration will be seen as transformative, Tomasky pointed out, because of the landmark legislation that has been passed during Obama's term: tax increases, healthcare reform and the Dodd-Frank bill. And while the first three years of the Obama administration was “dissatisfying to many liberals,” he said, the administration is “setting in motion a transformation of American political culture that is certainly something that Obama gets credit for and something that I think will probably last even if there is a Republican president next time."
The most important problem in American politics, Tomasky argued, is hyperpartisanship, which he described as "historically unique." The Republican Party is extreme in two ways, he said: their policy positions, but also their idea of "politics as constant warfare…that the Democrats are the enemy and have to be crushed.” This way of thinking, he said, “makes the idea of compromising impossible.”
With the upcoming deadline for the “sequester” of budget cuts, and many more deadlines after that, Tomasky foresees the Republicans refusing to compromise, no matter what Obama brings to the table. The GOP strategy, he said, “is to keep gumming up government because as long as people think Washington is dysfunctional, they will blame at least part of it on Obama….They're willing to lose a leg as long as Obama loses a foot.”
How this will play into the president’s legacy, Tomasky noted, is that Obama “can't be a Reaganite figure until he beats them.” But personally, Tomasky said that he “would rather them all meet halfway.”
Article and photo by Janell Sims, Shorenstein Center.