“One thing we can count on with respect to this Congress is that if there is even one second left before you have to do what you’re supposed to do, they will use that last second,” he said.
It was a moment of old school politics. After losing the message war during much of his first term, Obama was sending his conservative opponents a clear signal.
Translation: I understand that in the new political order that exists in Washington, you have to fight to win, and winning means drawing blood.
Some pundits suggested that Mr. Obama was “spiking the football” and might have gone too far after skilfully out-maneuvering the GOP.
I don’t think so. I think the president was signalling clearly that the Mr. Nice Guy era — all that stuff about “fixing” Washington DC — is over.
The second term is going to be a brawl and the White House plans to keep Republicans on the ropes as long as possible.
Fair enough. Politics, after all, isn’t a game of bean-bag or flag football.
But as we’ve learned in recent years, it’s possible to win lots of fights in Washington without actually moving the country forward.
This “fiscal cliff” deal brought important symbolism, raising taxes on the country’s wealthiest citizens and beginning to dismantle the economic legacy of the Bush years. But it doesn’t address any of the actual problems that the country faces.
Massive deficits, out of control defense spending, entitlements and health care creaking under the weight of an aging population, eroding infrastructure, depression-level unemployment among blacks and Hispanics, a byzantine tax code, climate change.
As the country’s dominant politician — and, really, after this week’s debacle, Republicans hardly even have a leader or standard bearer worthy of the name — it will be up to Mr. Obama to set the direction for addressing all these problems.
Many of them are pressing enough that they can’t wait until 2016.
This is clearly a president at the top of his game, bolstered by the November election and by disarray among conservatives. But it’s lonely at the top.
To put the country back on track, Mr. Obama will almost certainly have to propose specific cuts and tax increases that will spark a much fiercer debate than we’ve seen this week.
He will likely find himself forced to win over hard-line liberals, who are already distrustful of this White House, while also taking on right-of-center lawmakers who have been his punching bag in recent weeks.
That’s the test that lies ahead for Mr. Obama.
He’s shown that he can deliver a world-class smackdown. Now he’ll have to prove that he can translate his new authority into actual reform and progress.