President Obama won reelection this past November by an overwhelming popular vote majority. With the fiscal cliff narrowly and rapidly approaching, the cards were in his favor. However, the republicans and tea partiers alike found a way to beat him down and disrupt the start of his much anticipated second term by virtually taking the wind from his sails.
One of the first ways republicans were able to accomplish this was the harsh opposition to anticipated Secretary of State nominee Susan Rice. Republicans went on a witch-hunt to discover the truth about that September night in Benghazi. Republicans wasted no time accusing Rice of covering up details and giving the American people false information about the September 11 attacks. It seemed as though the president was going to support Ms. Rice. He warned that she is more than qualified and if they had anything to say, to address him directly.
This was what those who voted for him in November wanted to see - confidence and boldness. However, the attacks from the right continued and they vowed to make the senate nomination process arduous. With Rice eventually withdrawing her name from the pool, many wondered if the president was too soft. It was later discovered in an independent investigation that Susan Rice, indeed had nothing to do with the Benghazi incident. On the other hand, it was important for the president to pick his battles since he had to deal with the upcoming fiscal cliff crisis. This was undoubtedly a victory for republicans. Not only did they make the president look weak and submissive, but they got what they wanted which was for Senator John Kerry (D-MA) to be nominated for Secretary of State opening the door for his potential replacement, Scott Brown.
In terms of the fiscal cliff, President Obama was talking a tough game and was urging congress to come to a fair compromise. He had campaigned on raising taxes on income earners over $250,000. During the muddy negotiations and the eventual deal reached, this number increased to income earners over $400,000. Middle class Americans also saw the end of the payroll tax holiday with the deal. The sequesters were delayed another two months along with the debt ceiling. While the president may have seemed feeble again, he did not have a choice unless he was willing (like many republicans it seems) to go over the cliff. House republicans were more concerned with getting what they wanted out of this deal than how going over the cliff would affect the rest of the country. This placed an unfortunate burden on the president to act in ways he may not have wanted to and did not campaign on. It is difficult to compromise with those who are willing to virtually sell everyone else down the river for their own personal agendas.
E.J Dionne of the Washington Post notes that the deal reached after the fiscal cliff is progress and "...for the first time since 1990, a significant number of republicans voted to raise taxes - and they raised them most on the very rich." While some refer to the deal as progress the troubling reality is that the deal is simply kicking the can down the road and Americans could be in store for an even more hellacious battle in a few months.
The next big battle between the president and the GOP will be the nomination process for Senator Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense. Hagel was not liked by many of his cohorts in the senate and is looked upon as being "anti-Israel," "anti-gay," and "soft on Iran," according to the New York Times. He has also been thought to be sympathetic to groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah. Hagel voted against sanctions toward Iran and was opposed to military force in the prevention of Iran's nuclear arms race. It is hard to imagine that republicans in congress would be so quick to oppose a former solider. Hagel, a Vietnam Veteran, has extensive military experience qualifying him for this position. A White House aide remarked that he was hopeful the GOP would not vote against a veteran.
The Hagel nomination has been suspected for some time now and was thought to make the president look like a man of compromise, integrity and one who was not afraid to cross the aisle. Now it seems to be another Susan Rice caliber battle. Senate republicans have already made it known that they are going to make Hagel's nomination process as difficult as possible. Some are even stating that this is the president's way of flexing his muscles and getting back at republicans for the Susan Rice attacks.
There is no question that the president has not been as strong on the tough issues immediately following his presidency. It took him over forty days to nominate the first person for his second term cabinet. It seems as though republicans are dictating the way this second term may go. Their "...my way or the highway" ideology is detrimental to the country and American people but it has baffled democrats and made the reelected president look soft. If the president wants to get serious this time around he should lead by example and not give into republican waffling. He should stay strong with the Hagel nomination and not let the foreseeable grueling nomination process discourage his choice for Defense Secretary. He should raise the debt ceiling through executive order instead of leaving it up to congress. If he wants to look serious he cannot let the republicans push him around as they have done the past three months and dictate the entire second term of his presidency.