October 17, 2013

Analysis: Shutdown fight gives Obama a chance to reboot

Against a divided foe, and with Democrats united, the president might now have an opportunity to lead in ways he hasn’t been able to for much of his time in the Oval Office.

By Dan Balz
The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — It’s rare when a president is given an opportunity to reboot in the middle of a term, but that’s what the end of the government shutdown has provided President Barack Obama. The question now is: What will he do with it?

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President Barack Obama speaks in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington on Thursday.

The Associated Press

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The first clues came Thursday morning and produced an ambiguous answer. Speaking for the first time after signing the bill that reopened the federal government, Obama was both conciliatory and challenging, offering outreach to some and a scolding to others.

His calls for bipartisan cooperation were aimed at what he called the “responsible” Republicans who in the end yielded to the obvious – that their party could not allow itself to be blamed for the first U.S. debt default in history as well as the first federal shutdown in 17 years – and voted to reopen the government and extend its borrowing power.

Obama focused his anger, or exasperation, on those hard-liners in the opposition party who were spurred on by the tea party wing of the Republican Party and whose tactics led the Republicans into a battle that they could not win and that significantly diminished the party in the eyes of many Americans.

Scorekeepers have done a running tally of winners and losers from this latest spectacle. On Thursday, Obama declared that there were no winners, but he knows better. He won this round, and his opposition is in more disarray than ever. That the opposition is now badly split was obvious from the votes in the Senate and the House on Wednesday night: A majority of House Republicans opposed the bill that reopened the government. Republicans have their own battles to fight.

Against a divided foe, with unity among his Democratic forces, Obama might now have an opportunity to lead in ways he hasn’t been able to for most of this year and much of his first term. His success or failure is likely to depend on his ability to exploit those divisions in his and the country’s interests.

In some ways, Thursday was a third Inauguration Day for the president after another bitter campaign. His first inauguration was a moment of high hopes and great expectations amid the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Within months, the era of good feeling had given way to partisan infighting.

After sizable losses in 2006 and 2008, Republicans decided in early 2009 that their way back to power was to oppose Obama at virtually every turn. The president moved ahead anyway, pushing through his agenda - including the Affordable Care Act - with Democratic votes only.

The backlash came in 2010 when dissatisfaction with the economy and an opposition energized by the tea party movement helped deal Obama and the Democrats a huge defeat in the midterm elections. That brought divided government back to Washington and also a new crop of House Republicans playing by new rules that turned their leaders into followers.

Divided government and implacable resistance from the tea party faction in the House helped produce even more confrontation and a messy debt-ceiling battle that produced no winners on either side. Obama came out of that fight demoralized and determined to take his case to the people in the 2012 election rather than trying to work with Republicans in Congress.

He was emboldened by his re-election. His second inaugural address was strikingly different from the first - more assertive, more impatient, more dismissive of those he viewed as obstructionist, more celebratory of the new America coalition that had given him a second term.

Obama had high hopes last winter for gun control and immigration, and even perhaps fixing the economy and striking a budget agreement. Gun control quickly died in the Senate. Immigration has been stalled in the House. Budget talks never got to the serious stage, despite two years of informal discussions among senators of both parties. The economy continues to recover slowly.

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