Strassel: The Silent Second-Term Agenda
Despite the Democrats' shellacking in 2010, the president moved left. Re-election in November will reinforce his view that he was correct to do so.
By KIMBERLEY A. STRASSEL
President Obama has a reputation for talking, but not necessarily for saying much. He has achieved new levels of vagueness this election season. Beyond repeating that he's in favor of making the "rich" pay for more government "investment," he hasn't offered a single new idea for a second term. This is deliberate.
The core of the Obama strategy is to make Americans worry that whatever Mitt Romney does, it will be worse. That's a harder case for Mr. Obama to make if he is himself proposing change. And so the Obama pitch is that this election is a choice between stability (giving Mr. Obama four more years to let his policies finally work) and upheaval (giving Mr. Romney four years to re-ruin the nation).
The pitch is profoundly dishonest. While the choice between four more years of Obama status quo and Mr. Romney is certainly vivid, it isn't accurate. The real contrast is between Mr. Romney's and Mr. Obama's future plans. And while the president hasn't revealed what those plans are, there is plenty of evidence for what a second term would look like.
Let's dispense with the obvious: An Obama second term will be foremost about higher taxes and greater spending. The president has been clear about the former and will consider victory in November a mandate to raise taxes on higher-income Americans and small businesses—at the least.
Meanwhile, no matter how the coming budget sequester sorts out, nobody should forget why it came into being: It was the result of Mr. Obama's refusal to consider any real changes to Social Security or Medicare. There will be no reason to budge in a second term. Absent reform to these drivers of debt, and given Mr. Obama's ambitions to further "invest" in education, energy and infrastructure, a second term means proposals for even broader and bigger tax hikes—and not just for his favorite targets. Continued and growing deficits are likely as well.
Presidents often use re-election to revive leftover policy objectives. A New Yorker magazine article in June noted: "The President has said that the most important policy he could address in his second term is climate change." Such an unpopular policy focus might seem crazy if Republicans hold the House, but then again Mr. Obama will want an issue where he can press his advantage and blame an obstinate GOP. The president has to date been unconcerned by how his agenda hurts congressional Democrats; he's unlikely to begin caring once he has been re-elected.
Yet since the probable outcome of his approach would be continued gridlock, his real efforts will be devoted to fine-tuning the regulatory apparatus he has designed specifically to go around Congress—as the administration has done the past two years. The Environmental Protection Agency in particular will resurrect rules it delayed implementing before the election (see: costly ozone regulations) and move to take over new areas like natural-gas fracking.
The same goes for other agencies, from the Labor Department to the Securities and Exchange Commission. The National Labor Relations Board will continue to cement union dominance over employers. The Solyndras will continue. What Mr. Obama cannot accomplish via regulation, he will attempt through executive order—much as he did with his recent immigration directive.
Most voters understand that a second Obama term means the continuation of ObamaCare and the Dodd-Frank financial regulations. But there is also the carte blanche that re-election will give the president to supercharge those laws, which are only now entering key rulemaking periods. The same Obama appointees who have already taken vast liberties with these laws (see: HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius's ObamaCare slush fund) will be crafting the new regulations. The bureaucrats will also have four more years to put in place key civil servants who can be counted on to keep the rules going even past an Obama administration.
It is likely the Supreme Court will offer up another vacancy, and Mr. Obama might finally have his chance to shift the balance of the court. A slew of appellate-court positions are also in limbo as the campaign proceeds; they would be filled by a second-term Obama.
Just as important are the things Mr. Obama will not do. His record gives no indication he will revive America's leadership in free trade. Nor is he likely to restore America's influence in the international arena. And so we will inch closer to a nuclear-armed Iran and the threats that the regime will pose to international peace and order.
None of this is hyperbole. Mr. Obama is open about his tax aims, is proud of his spending and has never apologized for his regulatory ambitions. Despite a shellacking in the midterms, he moved left, and a November victory will reinforce his sense that he was correct to do so.
While Democrats will take careful pains in coming convention weeks to avoid outlining the president's intentions, they are sitting in plain sight. The real choice this fall will be between Mitt Romney's reform agenda and a Supersized Obama. No wonder the Democrats are keeping mum.