It would be hard to imagine a more dispiriting prelude to a new presidential term than this past week’s sorry “fiscal cliff” deal to defer (and perhaps multiply) the nation’s financial problems. After President Barack Obama failed to negotiate a serious “grand bargain,” he had to be rescued with a mini-bargain brokered by Vice President Joe Biden, the loquacious master of old-time, cracker barrel politics.
Obama had seemed poised a few weeks ago to become, at last, the political leader the country needs. He won a brilliant election victory, using political tools so sophisticated that Republican strategists have been trying ever since to “reverse engineer” them so they can avoid humiliating defeats. Obama spoke to the nation after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in a voice that was truly presidential in its restrained expression of deep grief. In short, Obama seemed ready to lead.