Politically speaking, president Obama strikes me right now as betwixt and between. He is neither playing an effective inside game, seeking compromise, nor is he able to execute fully in campaign mode, his preferred second-term approach. This neither world is a dangerous place to be.
Since the election, Obama has signaled a new combativeness, a desire not to repeat the failed strategy of compromise from his first term. Simply put, he wants to beat Republicans into political submission. And he has had some success, particularly his victory on raising taxes on the wealthy.
Last month his campaign staff announced a fundraising effort to use campaign-style tactics to build support for the president’s agenda. Bypassing Washington and addressing voters directly in members’ districts can be an effective strategy, but you have to go all in, particularly on a matter as complex as resolving the sequester. As of yet, the activities of the president’s “post-campaign” operation are not yet visible, and it remains uncertain how much they will be. Raising money for an electoral campaign is a good deal easier than raising it for a policy fight. So, for now, the president uses his bully pulpit, but his megaphone lacks the volume it had in the campaign. And the dilemma is this: Until the sequester is resolved, no one is listening to anything else. And if you’re not building momentum to resolve the sequester on your terms, you’re stuck. And that’s where Obama is right now.