The president is no longer a prisoner of his command post on Pennsylvania Avenue. He’s out, engaged in what Andrew Johnson called a swing around the circle, taking his case on the road and to the people, so much so that Republicans, seeing that his public performances have the air of political rallies, worry that they are hardening his position or, worse, pushing him leftward.
But what may be most important is the outlook that Obama, who has moved from optimism to pessimism to realism, adopts in the first year of his new term. Much of that, of course, will be determined by how he negotiates the path to, or away from, the fiscal cliff. The latest unemployment figures surely will buoy his spirits, and he seems to have an advantage in his negotiations with GOP leaders, who have seen the polls suggesting that if the country falls off the cliff, the nation will blame them.
But presidential moods are unusually subject to change. Lyndon B. Johnson began his presidency a half-century ago as a mourner who doubted his abilities, became within six months a dreamer who broadened the nation’s horizons and eventually became a presidential hermit who dared speak only at military installations, so spooked was he about protesters heckling him for his war in Vietnam even as he took pride in his war against poverty.
A major question is whether Obama 2.0 will move from forcing change, as he did with his economic stimulus and health care plan, to negotiating change. He could go either way. He might consider the stimulus and Obamacare historic, virtuous victories and, having been re-elected, believe the strong-arm is the maneuver of choice. Or he may believe the struggles he’s had as president suggest there must be a better way to govern.