The race for the White House is over; but some observers see President Obama as poised to continue in campaign mode in the face of what he may consider an obstructionist Congress. It’s certainly the way he’s approached the gun control issue thus far. So, is that likely to continue? And if it does, what are the ramifications? Greg Lebel, Assistant Professor of Political Management at George Washington University and a veteran of several presidential campaigns, analyzes the President’s second term.
RUSH TRANSCRIPT: GREG LEBEL[REV. DR. C. WELTON GADDY, HOST]: Greg Lebel teaches Political Management at George Washington University, and spent years working inside presidential campaigns, giving him a unique perspective on the political headlines we see today. As you now my thoughts already, it’s always great to have Greg on the show, and as we look ahead to the second term of the Obama administration, I’m pleased to welcome Greg Lebel back to State of Belief Radio – not to talk about the campaign, but to talk about this second administration.
Greg, welcome back![GREG LEBEL, GUEST]: Thank you, what a nice change! [WG]: Yeah, that’s exactly right! Well, we spent a lot of time dealing with who was going to be in the White House, and it’s now time for us to look closely at the President as he moves beyond his campaign mode to actually lead the nation in this second administration. From fiscal issues to gun control, the President seems committed to bringing his message directly to the voters and, according to some observers, to circumvent direct engagement with Congress whenever possible. Is that a fair assessment? [GL]: I think part of it is; when you say that he’s moving away from campaign mode is probably part of what’s not right. Because I think the new Barack Obama and the new Barack Obama administration really understand the value of that campaign mode, if you will, in the context of this new administration and the issues that he wants to talk about. I think it’s probably an overstatement to say that he wants to work around Congress. I think his natural inclination inclination is to work with Congress. He’s a naturally careful sort of guy; he’s a cautious sort of guy. But I think the result of the first term and this campaign have left him with the firm belief that this is the way he has to go; this is the way this term has to go. He has to find his own way. He has to be more forceful and lay down a few lines and say, “We go here, and we don’t go any further.” [WG]: He’s got a lot of, I guess what could be called “paralyzed legislation,” and certainly issues that he wants to move on. Is this kind of unilateral action, the executive order kind of action, going to be used repeatedly in the second administration? [GL]: I think that remains to be seen. I think what we’ll see is that as a sort of fallback position. I think that once he establishes that he’s ready to do that, that’s then on the table. That was never on the table in the first administration, and I think that being there is a sort of powerplay and message in itself. So the question is whether taking this approach on gun control is something that will make some of the Republican leadership in the House and Senate take note, and say: if we don’t want to go that route, we need to play ball a little bit more than we did the last four years. [WG]: I mean, can you do that for four years? [GL]: You mean, govern by executive order? [WG]: Yeah. [GL]: It would be awfully difficult! And there’ll be a lot of criticism, and I think mounting criticism, as it goes on. There’s some criticism already, I think – I don’t think that there’s a lot of foundation for the criticism right now – but if it continues to be the approach, I think it does shed a different sort of light on the presidency. So I suspect this is more tactic than strategy right now. [WG]: Greg, how much is he going to put into this gun control legislation? Is he going to stick with it? [GL]: I think he is. And for a coule of reasons, one of which is the fact that I think this has really struck home with this President. I think he sees this – and you listen to his comments – I think you see that this is something that if, as President, he can’t take this issue on, then what’s the point? Remember, this is the father of two young daughters, and I think that this really has struck him at that level.
But secondly, I believe this has become – again – this is sort of the defining issue, in a sense, as we go into the new administration and the new Congress. I think there have to be some points made in this. Congress has to understand that this is not the Barack Obama that we saw – and that was much criticized by these same Republicans over the last four years for not taking the helm, for not stepping up to the plate and saying, “This is what I want, this is where we’re gonna go,” – and now he’s being criticized for doing exactly that. But I think the times have changed, his approach to his job has changed, and I think this is a hallmark of what we’ll see going on.[WG]: I think – just one more thought about the executive order thing – I think I’m right that he had done less executive orders than almost any President through the first term. And it seems to me that using the executive order is saying, “I am going to get this done one way or another, and you can cooperate, or I’ll go the executive order route.” [GL]: That’s exactly right. I don’t know what the numbers are for prior administrations, but I suspect you’re right. Certainly this was not a part of the Obama administration’s quiver the first term – we simply didn’t see it. And the second point, I think you’re exactly right. [WG]: Well, let’s talk a minute about the President’s Cabinet. There are a lot of appointments to be made, and it seems like, repeatedly now, names are floated to see what kind of venom the opposition will muster in relation to certain people. It’s kind of a public vetting before a formal announcement. Now, is that something new, or is that something old? [GL]: No, it’s something new, because the reality is they’ll all get confirmed. [WG]: Really? [GL]: I think so, yeah. I don’t think that any of them will not get confirmed. So this is folks’ opportunity to sort of make their points, get their quotes in the paper, and so on, and so forth. I don’t think there’ll be any significant problems in getting these folks confirmed. [WG]: Well, in looking at the transitions that are taking place in the new Congress, in the new Cabinet, in a new presidential term – what’s catching your attention? [GL]: Just the sheer up-in-the-air-ness of everything right now! In many ways, this is a more precarious time than we saw in 2009, I think – politically, certainly not economically – but I think politically that’s true.
We have a Speaker of the House who’s handle on power right now is really in question. He was re-elected Speaker; but being elected Speaker and being able to function as Speaker are two very different things.
The Republican Party is going through a major thinking-through of who they are and who they speak to.
And you’ve got Republicans who come from red states who are feeling the pressure of two years being challenged from their right, on the Republican side, if they’re not careful; you have a certain number of Republican – particularly certain members of the House – who were elected from states that Obama won, Ohio, Pennsylvania being two of them – who are more concerned about being challenged from the Democratic side in two years. So these folks aren’t going to mix real well in terms of what they need out of this next couple of years. So you’ve got that whole thing going on.
We have a whole lot of new people coming into the Administration, and there’s already a little bit of a kerfuffle about how many white males there are; I don’t know how that’s all going to shake out, but again, this points, I think, to this President’s desire to be surrounded by people he’s comfortable with and he trusts. I think essentially that’s what’s going on here. But yeah, there’s a lot up in the air right now.[WG]: Monday is the Inauguration of the second term for this President. After Monday, what is political leadership in this next year going to look like? [GL]: I think that we will see a very different political leadership style from the President – we’ve already sort of alluded to that. I think now that he is freed up from running for re-election, now that he has done better than expected in winning re-election, I think we will see a President who is much more willing – and eager, I think, in some ways – to step up to the plate on some of these issues and say, “This is where I want us to go.”
I think that we’ll see someone who’s more strategic in terms of accepting losses for their strategic value than he was in his first term. This President was not often willing to lose; he was willing to accept less than he thought was appropriate or necessary in order to get legislation passed. This, interestingly enough, will put him, probably, at odds with the leadership of the Senate on occasion, and I think we’ll see that in gun control, in particular. So we may see more struggles between the President and the Majority Leader of the Senate this time than we’ve seen before.
The Republican Leadership of the House, as I said, I think John Boehner has the worst job in Washington right now. I don’t think he’s figured out how to lead this House, how to lead these House Republicans. And he’s got to figure that out.[WG]: Do you think – and I know a lot of American people are interested in the answer to this question – do you think that we will see a continuation of the hardcore divisions in this nation, or will we get any glimpse of an ability to cooperate? [GL]: I think that question gets answered in the hardcore politics as these folks look at the next cycle. And again, speaking about that dichotomy that I just described among Republicans, I think will be part of this. The question is, I think, whether mainstream conservative Republicans in the House of Representatives are going to realize – and this gun control issue may be a real defining moment in this country, one that’s a significant one over many, many years – where mainstream Republicans are convinced, partly by the President’s decision to take this fight outside the walls of the Capitol and outside of Washington, and directly to the people – whether a lot of these mainstream conservative Republicans are going to realize that the danger of sticking with the Rush Limbaugh/Tea Party wing of the party is greater than the danger of not stepping up and addressing some of these issues that Americans clearly see as needing to be addressed. [WG]: Well, I don’t have a question to ask you about who’s going to win what, so I’ll ask you the question: do you think there’ll be any surprises this year? [GL]: There will be many, many, many surprises this year! That’s always a sort of difficult question to answer in terms of what the surprises are going to be. I think one of the non-surprises is that we will get something in immigration – I think that that has to happen, and I think both sides are going to succeed on that. I guess I think, right now, the surprise is going to be in this gun control legislation. I think we will see some significant changes in gun laws in this country, and I think a lot of people are betting that that won’t happen right now; but I suspect that they will. If the Obama Administration continues to take the approach they’re on, we may see – for me, happily – see some significant changes in the way we deal with guns in this country. [WG]: Greg Lebel is the always insightful Assistant Professor of Political Management at George Washington University; he’s also the veteran of several presidential campaigns.
Greg, I don’t know if we’ll ever top the experience of taping a segment of this show while speeding through the streets of Charlotte, North Carolina late one night during the Democratic National Convention, but we’re sure gonna try to top that.
If I can just transition a second before you leave, I’ve not had a chance this year to mention the fact that a very frequent and prophetic voice on State of Belief was silenced on Christmas Day, when Bishop Jane Holmes Dixon died. I know that she was an important part of your life; she was as good a friend as I could ever have. And I wonder, would you like to just say a word about Bishop Jane?[GL]: Well, as you said, I think this loss, for both of us, comes on two levels. I think this is a great personal loss for both of us in the form of a wonderful friend; but Jane’s voice was one of inclusion and acceptance and justice, and we have lost that remarkable voice. And it will be tough to replace. We will miss her. [WG]: If State of Belief has any influence at all in shaping people’s mentality, shaping their views about religion and religious integrity – I could not hope that anybody could be any more human, as well as religious, than Jane Holmes Dixon. [GL]: You’ve said it exactly right, exactly right. [WG]: Thanks for being with us again on State of Belief. [GL]: It’s nice to see you.
State of Belief is based on the proposition that religion has a positive and healing role to play in the life of the nation. The show explains and explores that role by illustrating the vast diversity of beliefs in America – the most religiously diverse country in the world – while exposing and critiquing both the political manipulation of religion for partisan purposes and the religious manipulation of government for sectarian purposes.
Each week, the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy offers listeners critical analysis of the news of religion and politics, and seeks to provide listeners with an understanding and appreciation of religious liberty. Rev. Gaddy tackles politics with the firm belief that the best way to secure freedom for religion in America is to secure freedom from religion. State of Belief illustrates how the Religious Right is wrong – wrong for America and bad for religion.
Through interviews with celebrities and newsmakers and field reports from around the country, State of Belief explores the intersection of religion with politics, culture, media, and activism, and promotes diverse religious voices in a religiously pluralistic world.
Author of more than 20 books, including First Freedom First: A Citizen’s Guide to Protecting Religious Liberty and the Separation of Church and State, the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy leads the national non-partisan grassroots and educational organization Interfaith Alliance and serves as Pastor for Preaching and Worship at Northminster (Baptist) Church in Monroe, Louisiana.
In addition to being a prolific writer, Dr. Gaddy hosts the weekly State of Belief radio program, where he explores the role of religion in the life of the nation by illustrating the vast diversity of beliefs in America, while exposing and critiquing both the political manipulation of religion for partisan purposes and the religious manipulation of government for sectarian purposes.
Dr. Gaddy provides regular commentary to the national media on issues relating to religion and politics. He has appeared on MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show and Hardball, NBC’s Nightly News and Dateline, PBS’s Religion and Ethics Newsweekly and The Newshour with Jim Lehrer, C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, ABC’s World News, and CNN’s American Morning. Former host of Morally Speaking on NBC affiliate KTVE in Monroe, Louisiana, Dr. Gaddy is a regular contributor to mainstream and religious news outlets.
While ministering to churches with a message of inclusion, Dr. Gaddy emerged as a leader among progressive and moderate Baptists. Among his many leadership roles, he is a past president of the Alliance of Baptists and has been a 20-year member of the Commission of Christian Ethics of the Baptist World Alliance. His past leadership roles include serving as a member of the General Council of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, President of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Chair of the Pastoral Leadership Commission of the Baptist World Alliance and member of the World Economic Forum’s Council of 100. Rev. Gaddy currently serves on the White House task force on the reform of the Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
Prior to the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), Dr. Gaddy served in many SBC leadership roles including as a member of the convention’s Executive Committee from 1980-84 and Director of Christian Citizenship Development of the Christian Life Commission from 1973-77.
Dr. Gaddy received his undergraduate degree from Union University in Jackson, Tennessee and his doctoral degree and divinity training from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.