“The ground of liberty,” wrote Thomas Jefferson, “is gained by inches.” Wise counsel, yes, for patience amid the tribulations of political life, which is inherently contentious and can never leave everyone happy about everything.
There are moments, though, when the hour has to be seized if we’re to gain those inches, and for President Obama, this is such a moment.
In terms of the fiscal issues facing the country, every day that passes slowly but inexorably erodes the re-elected President’s leverage over the process that a majority of voting Americans just charged him with leading. House Speaker John Boehner has suggested that 2013 is the year to settle the pending questions of taxing and spending, but 2013 is all that nearer to congressional elections and all that farther from Obama’s victory. The clock is not the President’s friend.
(MORE: Why We Should Go over the Fiscal Cliff)
To say the least, columns offering advice to a man who just joined Wilson, FDR and Clinton as a two-term Democratic President are of limited utility. He knows politics, and by his own admission, his opponents have made him a “better President.” So he knows that power, like affection, is fleeting.
It’s the rest of us, I think, who need to insist that Washington face the issues that were delayed from the summer of 2011 until now. Obama can’t do this alone, and one suspects that even he knows this by now.
But he can begin to lay the rhetorical groundwork that puts the pressure — and thus the political blame — on the Republicans if we go over the cliff. President Obama has a relatively recent precedent for this: Bill Clinton managed to defeat the Republicans over a threatened government shutdown in the mid-1990s. And we know that the 42nd President stands ready to offer as much counsel as the 44th needs.