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Opinion

December 1, 2012

Shribman: Defining the Obama presidency

(Continued)

The locusts ate a lot of the cabbage Washington could have recovered on the revenue side as well. The usual calculus (closing loopholes and tax breaks, which the left supports, in exchange for lowering rates, which the right supports) is imbedded in the capital climate, but like the weather, it is a matter that everyone talks about and nobody does anything about.

The jarring news for the political class: Climate change is real, and Washington is under water.

It seems like years ago, but it was only yesterday (really, only a month ago) that everyone -- the candidates, the commentariat, common folks full of common sense -- was saying that the 2012 election was one of the most important in our lifetimes. We say that sort of rubbish every four years, when in fact we should recognize what the great student of the presidency Richard Neustadt taught us, but what we never learned: Presidents don’t have all that much power. Mostly they have the power, or really the potential, to persuade. That is Obama’s task now.

In truth, the 2012 election settled little. This is not what conservatives, who feel that all the buoys of national life have moved, nor what liberals, who feel America’s new natural state of governance is fundamentally progressive, believe, but it may be true. We are back where we were during the torrid 44 days of budget negotiations in summer 2011, only the situation is ever more dire, in part because those six weeks produced nothing. Washington didn’t kick the problem down the road; it kicked it into a ditch.

Conservatives hope Obama is merely a transitional figure. They may be right, but the transition may be as much in the president himself as in the body politic. He’s not running for re-election again, and the House Republicans are. He has the whip hand, and the House Republicans don’t.

But in horse racing, as in politics, it isn’t the possession of the whip but the use of it that matters. We know who has it. In a month’s time, we should know how he uses it.

North Shore native and Pulitzer Prize winner David M. Shribman is executive editor of the Post-Gazette.

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