Obama’s second term: Has he lost his ‘juice’?

Is the president already a lame duck, or is he biding his time to become a “catalyst for change” at the right moment?

“The president is fading,” said Peggy Noonan in The Wall Street Journal. One hundred days into his second term, President Obama is already acting like a lame duck, and seems “at the mercy of events.” He couldn’t get a Democratic-controlled Senate to pass a gun-control bill supported by 90 percent of the public. His sequester strategy backfired, he’s letting congressional Republicans take control of immigration reform, and “he’s floundering on Syria.” When asked in a press conference last week if he had “run out of juice,” Obama glibly replied that “rumors of my demise may be a little exaggerated,” before once again blaming Republicans in Congress for refusing to work with him. Washington is undoubtedly dysfunctional, said Ron Fournier in NationalJournal.com. But the president is letting the Republican opposition grind him down into self-pitying passivity. “Great presidents rise above circumstance.” Obama seems to have lost the will to even try.

The malaise gripping Washington can’t be blamed on a lack of presidential “juice,” said Bob Shrum in TheDailyBeast.com. It’s the direct result of the Republican Party’s nihilistic determination to block Obama at every turn. Republican Sen. Pat Toomey admitted as much last week, saying the bill he co-sponsored requiring background checks for gun sales failed mainly because Republicans “didn’t want to be seen helping the president do something he wanted to get done.” Liberals want to know why Obama can’t work his will like Lyndon Johnson, but LBJ had two-thirds Democratic majorities in both houses and liberal Republicans as well. Obama has a Senate paralyzed by filibusters, and a House controlled by Tea Party wingnuts. Believing that the president can fix this dysfunction with some magical feat of “leadership” is naïve, said Ezra Klein in TheWashington Post. Our system was designed to limit presidential power, and to require “extraordinary levels of consensus to operate smoothly.” With the two parties more polarized than at any time in recent history, “presidents are going to continue to fail because they can’t possibly succeed.”

Still, Obama can’t afford to sound like a defeatist, said E.J. Dionne Jr., also in the Post. He is spending too much time moaning about GOP intransigence, and trying to woo Republicans with concessions like proposed cuts in Social Security benefits. No wonder that “even his supporters are growing impatient.” The GOP wants only to “steadily weaken him,” so Obama should stop bargaining, play hardball, and focus on rallying people behind such second-term agenda items as raising the minimum wage, providing universal pre-K, and rebuilding roads.

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Sorry, but in today’s polarized climate, “muscular, public leadership” actually is counterproductive, said John Dickerson in Slate

.com. The harder Obama fights for legislation, the less likely it is to pass. That’s why he’s distanced himself from the immigration bill, for example. “Leading from behind” may have become a pejorative, but it is also a “necessary form of presidential leadership.” As a brilliant political tactician, Obama knows he’s neither “a dictator nor a decider,” said Andrew Sullivan in Dish.AndrewSullivan.com.Instead, he’s a “catalyst for change.” Look at how he waited for the right moment to publicly support gay marriage—adding critical momentum to that movement. Obama also succeeded in winding down two foreign wars, and in expanding access to health care. “The U.S. economy is slowly, slowly returning to health.” Want more of that? Then demand that Congress do something other than obstruct. “We’re a republic, not a benevolent dictatorship.”

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