If I were advising the White House now, I would encourage President Obama to take advantage of the time remaining before the new GOP-dominated Congress assumes office to change the subject in a big way. The president should undertake a series of major executive actions on issues that congressional Republicans have failed to act on and seem unlikely ever to pass.
This cannot be done quietly. Indeed, polarization—including a massive outcry from the wing-nut section of the GOP—can be helpful if the president chooses the right issues. Obama should be very visible, delivering high-profile speeches and coordinating with grassroots activists.
Here are a few suggestions:
Begin serious immigration reform. In your first press conference after the elections, Mr. President, you said you would take executive action on immigration if the Republicans didn’t give you a bill you could sign.
Don’t wait for the new Congress; instead, you should immediately announce a major reduction in deportations. Do it in a high-profile appearance at the Texas or Arizona border, making appearances with some of the girls and boys who have fled to the United States to escape the appalling violence and poverty of their lives in Honduras and Guatemala.
Let the right wing come unglued, and don’t back down when Steve King, Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin start calling for your impeachment. If the crazies threaten impeachment over perfectly legal executive actions, it will turn off independents and moderates and leave most of the 2016 Republican presidential candidates twisting in the wind. (Remember, the foolish, overwrought impeachment assault on Bill Clinton helped clarify to most Americans that the GOP was the big problem in Washington.)
Create a climate legacy. Cancel the Keystone XL pipeline before the right wing can draw a breath after your immigration actions. Then, Mr. President, elevate climate change as an issue, the way you took on healthcare reform.
Meet with China and India on climate issues before the next round of global climate talks. Set aside for preservation big chunks of public land and territorial waters, holding photo ops in spectacular natural settings as you do so—very few executive actions are so popular with most of the public.
Host a national teach-in with climate scientists, using it to destroy the bogus arguments of corporate-funded climate-change denialism. Pull together a meeting of coastal mayors to talk about the steps we must take to prepare for the coming superstorms. This is not only necessary; it’s a good way to raise the issue of our dangerously decaying infrastructure.
No previous leaders have met the challenge of global warming, which affects both national and world security. If you make it a part of the Obama legacy, future generations will thank you.