As the academic semester came to a close, I sat down with the University of Melbourne’s Dr. Timothy Lynch, one of the foremost experts on American politics on the Australian academic scene. Currently the Director of the Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences, at The Faculty of Arts, Dr. Lynch teaches a variety of subjects on American politics and contributes to a variety television and print media with expert commentary.
Over the course of a half-hour interview we discussed a variety of issues that reflected upon the current state of affairs in Washington, the fracas that was the Government Shutdown, President Obama’s increasingly challenging second term and concluded with us casting our eye to 2016 and who may contend for the White House.
The Government Shutdown/Debt Ceiling Crisis
What does the Shutdown say about the current state of US politics?
Dr. Lynch suggests, albeit unfashionably as he noted, that President Obama bears a share of the blame for the September/October crisis. He elaborated, suggesting that he has failed to compromise in any meaningful way with moderate Republicans rather painting them as a broad encompassing bloc of Tea Party radicals. To add weight to his argument he noted that the President campaigned heavily on the theme of political unity and yet has failed to deliver.
Why is this the case? Dr. Lynch suggested that whilst Obama wanted a legacy comparable to President Lyndon Johnson (the pioneer of the Great Society) he lacks the in-built will to go about securing such a legacy, typified in an unwillingness to ‘work the phones’, as President Bill Clinton was famous for. For Dr. Lynch, the fact that the Obamacare was passed without a single Congressional Republican vote in 2010, was evidence enough.
He further posited that the country is now less Republican, whilst increasingly more conservative, which introduced his second line of argument which apportioned a significant amount of blame to Republicans. Focusing on the Tea Party, he went on to posit that not since the time of Andrew Jackson have such political associations been formed, increasingly outside the auspices of the party apparatus.
Focusing on Bill Clinton, is the Democratic Party of his era different to today?
Claiming that the best thing to happen to Clinton’s presidency was losing control of Congress in 1994, Dr. Lynch continued to stress how Clinton has far superior political skills compared to Obama, despite his myriad failings. To emphasise this Dr. Lynch went on to note that in similar circumstances with Congress, Clinton far exceeded Obama in his engagements with the Republicans.
Diving deeper into Obama’s psyche, Dr. Lynch went on to discuss the idea that this may have been caused by the President’s upbringing as an academic and a legislator rather than an executive, where the balancing of differing ideas is a more pressing requirement of the job.
Is Obama’s legislative agenda now finished?
Put simply, Dr. Lynch suggested in the aftermath of the crisis, Obama’s legislative agenda is dead-on-arrival with Congress. Whilst recognising the significance of implementing Obamacare (provided it can overcome its woeful rollout) he suggested that Obama will now struggle to emulate the records of his Democratic predecessors, FDR and LBJ.
Where does this political episode fit within America’s history?
Answering the suggestion that the struggle stems from the mere fact that there are fewer Republicans to reach out to, Dr. Lynch proposed the idea that the Democrats have an incentive to encourage a degree of dependency on Big Government, to ensure that they have a long-term ‘clientele’ for electoral contests. Furthermore, Dr. Lynch noted that America’s political tradition is rooted in the idea of government being constrained, further proposing the idea that potentially a Shutdown may be more amenable to unfettered government intervention. Concluding this phase of discussion, Dr. Lynch discussed the idea that the Tea Party will always exist in some form and that its development stems from a distaste with the political legacies of Presidents George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan where government wasn’t constrained, rather expanded in a comparable fashion to Democrats.
What hope now is there for a big budget deal?
Whilst the system has continued to exist in tension between ideological battles and a quest for pragmatic solutions, our discussion concluded that a deal was likely, despite the unsustainability of such a course of policy action. Raising an interesting proposition, Dr. Lynch raised the possibility that government itself is reaching its limits, and this may be a preferable means to achieve the agendas of Republicans such as Ted Cruz. To achieve a long-term budget solution, the welfare state must be reformed drastically.
Is John Boehner’s time as Speaker up?
Dr. Lynch couldn’t recognise a potential successor to the increasingly-pressured Republican leader but raised the past precedence for the two political parties to recast themselves to suit prevailing political trends and that such a revamp would be likely to occur in the next few Presidential cycles.
Who’s driving the Republican regeneration?
Whilst doubtful over New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s capacity to stand for the Presidency legitimately due to his weight issues, Dr. Lynch stated that the recently re-elected Governor could be the ‘Republican Obama’, one who could unite disparate groups and chart a course down the middle. Further, Dr. Lynch spoke highly of the potential candidacy of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, as a continuation of the kinds of dynasties that appeal to Americans. In contrast, Dr. Lynch wasn’t confident of the chances of Florida Senator Marco Rubio, due to his inexperience and lack of executive experience.
Then again, as Dr. Lynch rightly noted, American politics is unpredictable, for as he asked during the interview, ‘who would’ve thought the day after 9/11, in the space of a few years, America would have its first black President, one with two foreign-sounding names?’
On the Democratic side, Dr. Lynch was almost certain former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would run. Containing within herself a sense of entitlement for the job, and the sense that she should be there now, Dr. Lynch concluded that she would be a formidable candidate even against the likes of Vice President Joe Biden, even if he ran as the heir to the Obama legislative legacy.
When pressed for a conclusion, Dr. Lynch ultimately stated that he foresees a heavyweight battle between Clinton and Bush, 24 years after the family’s first entanglement at the presidential level.
Will Obama’s legacy be sweeping or incremental in its scope?
Suggesting that we miss continuities in the presidencies of Bush and Obama, from their preference for large-scale government initiatives (No Child Left Behind, Obamacare) and their expansive foreign policy, Dr. Lynch raised the idea as he has in his classes that Obama has run a competent version of the Bush administration, particularly in foreign policy circles. In recent months though, Obama has shown divergence from Bush through his equivocation over the course of action to the Syrian crisis. Quite critical of the President’s approach, Dr. Lynch suggested the idea that Bush would have acted far more instinctively.
Ultimately Obama is trapped by the nature of the presidency, despite his protestations that he’d fundamentally change the scope of it. With that we concluded our fascinating interview, itself sweeping in discussion.
The Melbourne Globalist thanks Dr. Lynch for his generosity in taking his time to address our readers.