5 Things Obama Can Learn From Bush as He Preps For SOTU 2013

Part 2 of a series Obama Across the Aisle. To read Part 1, click here.

President Obama will give his upcoming State of the Union address on February 12. In it, he is expected to further outline his bold domestic policy agenda featuring new measures on gun control, immigration, the environment, the tax code, and deficit spending. 

If President George W. Bush's experience is any indication, the policy plan Obama will outline in this speech will make or break his presidential reputation.

In February 2005, Obama's predecessor gave his post-reelection SOTU speech to Congress, urging the legislature to reform Social Security as a way to reconcile decreased government spending with the demand for financial support in Americans' twilight years. His subsequent efforts to dismantle and privatize that popular government program proved to be a turning point in his power struggle with Democrats, who regained control of both houses of Congress shortly after in the midterm elections of 2006. As a result, he allowed the narrative of his presidency to be written by his political opponents. Here are five ways Obama can avoid Bush's second term mistakes and secure his legacy as one of the greats:

1. Drop the Guns!:



Obama risks wasting his political capital on gun control, which has become a hot topic due to recent, publicized shootings across the country. While polls suggest the public demands leadership on this issue, conservatives have historically been adept at wedging gun rights advocates from the Democratic Party. By pursuing this aim, Obama not only does little to truly prevent gun violence on America's streets (a majority of homicides are caused by handguns obtained illegally) but he also will risk invigorating a Republican opposition now in the political doldrums. Just ask former President Bill Clinton, who attributed much of the gains the GOP made in the House and Senate in the 1994 midterm elections to the Assault Weapons Ban he signed earlier that same year. Even today, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's popularity has dramatically shifted negatively ever since he recently delivered the nation's first post-Sandy Hook gun control measures. Instead, Obama should wait on the sidelines and allow Congress to pass moderate gun control laws that are considered universally popular such as universal background checks that do away with the "gun show loophole." 

2. "Bienvenidos":



There are signs that Republicans in the Senate are finally warming to the idea of immigration reform. Politically, this is great news for Democrats, Latino and Asian voters, and even Republican lawmakers to a certain degree. Obama must remain at the forefront of the dialogue in order to prevent the GOP from capitalizing on potential new immigrant and minority voters in upcoming elections. Republican Congressmen will do their part to stymie change, but Obama will be given a prime opportunity to highlight his bipartisan sentiment by working closely with Senate Republicans like John McCain (R-Ariz.), his former presidential rival. While the GOP is clearly late to the immigration debate, Obama must welcome Republicans and their ideas, including increased border security, something he has approved of all along.

3. Do Mess With Taxes:



The tax code is bloated with illogical, inefficient, and cumbersome loopholes that serve to benefit tax accountants more than anyone else. Obama should work with Congress to close some of the bigger, less progressive loopholes such as the Home Mortgage Interest Deduction. Even Mitt Romney, Obama's 2012 Republican presidential opponent, proposed a reasonable cap on that tax deduction. Democrats, and Obama specifically, would do well to work with Republicans, using Romney's tax plan as a base. By doing so, they can achieve lowered tax rates across the board — something Republicans can walk away with happily — and increased revenues through severely limiting or eliminating other deductions that are used primarily by the wealthy. Failure to act on this may mean Democrats losing out on the ability to steer the discussion towards which tax credits to cap and by how much in the near future.

4. What Third Rail?:



Politically, as much as it may take a Republican administration to make the necessary defense spending cuts that will be needed to keep our deficits from continuing to escalate out of control, it will also require a Democrat to reign in the growth of entitlement spending. Entitlement spending is increasing primarily due to an aging population and rising health care costs associated with caring for said population. The Affordable Care Act was established to both address the left's desire to insure every American who could not afford health insurance and the right's supposed demand for fiscal accountability. Unfortunately, the GOP refused to fully engage Obama with modern ideas on how to resolve both issues at once, and we are left with an Obamacare that will do only so much to hamper rising costs. Obama, with public support for government health care programs like Medicare and Medicaid, must do more to show that GOP cooperation nationwide in planning and execution of Obamacare can help control costs. Doing so will ultimately go a long way towards limiting government health care spending. Obama could also work with Republicans to increase the age of Social Security recipients from 65 to 67 or even 70, as Americans in general are living far longer than they were when Social Security was designed in the 1930s. Members of both parties have even shown a willingness to increase the amount Medicare recipients pay more for its services, especially for those with high incomes.

5. Let it Grow, Let it Grow, Let it Grow:



While reforming the tax code and entitlement spending, Obama should seek out a new stimulus plan. With the exception of a few conservatives who would like to see Obama fail, most Americans hope for economic growth as means to propel our way out of this economic downturn. When the economic pie expands, all segments of our population benefit and the government gains increased revenue to boot. That is why most people were dismayed to hear that the GDP shrunk by .1% in the final months of 2012, even though most of that contraction was due to the Pentagon's unnecessary preparation for the sequester that never was (but likely will be). Let this indicator be a wake up call to those that clamor for austerity in the face of a weak recovery. Economic expansion will be the number one method by which our government balances its books, and the government has an obligation to play a role in that growth. Despite Obama's best efforts, his presidency will resemble that of much-maligned Martin Van Buren instead of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's if he fails to leave the Oval Office without evidence of sufficient economic growth. Thus, Obama should press for a modest stimulus, and let the GOP leadership play a role in helping craft the legislation if possible.

If Obama follows these five policies, maintaining open arms along the way, he will cement a positive domestic legacy that will endure history's judgment for generations to come.

This is part 2 of a series on "Obama Across the Aisle." To read part 1, click here.

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Daniel Bender

Daniel received his BA in International Affairs from the George Washington University in 2009. He has traveled extensively throughout India, Egypt, Israel, and Turkey and his academic and writing interests include Middle Eastern politics, geography, philosophy, and history.

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