in Kulturkampf

Obama’s Audible

Next Wednesday, the president is going to give his first actual state of the union speech and grab hold of the political center. He had promised to pivot, and the Supreme Court has offered the perfect opportunity for Obama to make his poll numbers rebound and get some legislation passed. The Citizens United decision creates a great opening; it is a classic case of judicial overreach that turns right-wing theology on its head.

Chances are, he’ll latch onto a key progressive issue — most likely the public option — and ask the House to pass the Senate bill as-is so it can be fixed via reconciliation rules. That will rebound progressive support and show strength, which is going to bring a poll bounce.

I predict the Republicans will show us their ass. They actually made plans to do so with his health care speech; they prepared copies of the GOP health care bullet points and distributed them to wave in unison. It was in that spirit Joe Wilson showed his ass, an act for which he was amply rewarded by an announced ten million dollars in donations.

Obama, you will recall, did not challenge him in return. But he may this time: if the last-minute OFA groundswell accomplished anything, it was good polling. With Massachusetts Democrats who stayed home or switched parties, the populist turn Obama made in December turns out to be ratings gold. He immediately announced strong new initiatives to reign in Wall Street habits. The markets have taken a hit as investors react to the change in tone, but they will recover. I think America is ready to see Obama lose patience, as he evidently has with Wall Street. Republicans will be playing with fire.

Which is not to say that Obama will engage in partisan rancor. He will eschew the politics of divide-and conquer for a wheat-and-chaff approach. That is, by positioning himself at he populist center — and engaging the populist left — he will not only make his polls rebound, he will give Republicans a chance to keep saying stupid things like this:

– Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX): “It is about a nonprofit group’s ability to speak about the public issue. I can’t think of a more fundamental First Amendment issue. … [The ruling could] open up resources that have not previously been available [for Republicans].” [NYT]

– Rep. Steve King (R-IA): “The Constitution protects the rights of citizens and employers to express their viewpoints on political issues. Today’s Supreme Court decision affirms the Bill of Rights and is a victory for liberty and free speech.” [Statement]

– Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN): “If the freedom of speech means anything, it means protecting the right of private citizens to voice opposition or support for their elected representatives. The fact that the Court overturned a 20-year precedent speaks volumes about the importance of this issue.” [Statement]

– Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY): The court took a step toward “restoring the First Amendment rights [of corporations and unions]. … By previously denying this right, the government was picking winners and losers.” [AP]

– RNC Chairman Michael Steele: “Today’s decision by the Supreme Court in Citizens United v. FEC, serves as an affirmation of the constitutional rights provided to Americans under the first amendment. Free speech strengthens our democracy.” [Statement]

– Senate Candidate Marco Rubio: “Today’s SCOTUS decision on McCain-Feingold is a victory for free speech.” [Statement]

Obama has only to point to Senator John McCain to appeal to their bipartisanship. The Grand Old Party will be free to divide itself — and so it probably will. Which puts that whole tea party machine in an awful bind. The wingnutosphere is already in overdrive trying to explain how Citizens United is a victory for freedom while Wall Street reform is bad. Their arguments will only convince the wingnutosphere — they don’t resonate with the middle.

Uniting the left while the right breaks? That’s epic 11-dimensional chess. The question is whether the corporate media will examine the question, because the Republicans are demonstrably insane on this issue. Obama need only make an argument from the center at the bully pulpit.

Which is why I say the GOP will once again show its ass, because loud noises are about all they have left; and those loud noises seem to dominate the corporate media conversation. The last thing Joe Wilson wants is to be the object of a witty retort, or worse, an impatient refusal to acknowledge the noise, that brings applause from Democrats and observers; it would become the iconic image of the news cycle.

But as I said, it’s all they have left.

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