Now the cry goes up that Obama should supply some leadership on gun control. Okay, expect some, now that people have had about enough of senseless massacres. Before, if you look at polling on gun control, people apparently had not had quite enough yet.

This business about leadership, though, is becoming a frequent and lazy dodge in public debate. People want leadership. Yay, great. But “leadership” is not the same as “magic.” Okay, deliver The Big Speech into the gale winds of interest group money and its funded Congressional opposition, and toss in the public’s (your) indifference to an issue and what you get is a president throwing away political capital for essentially nothing. (See budget negotiation, 2011). A president wants to get some return on his capital, like a bill to sign. You want leadership? Obama showed a fair bit on health care. And were you grateful? Polls said you didn’t much like the legislation because you considered it too long to read and you saw somewhere on television that some people said Obama was over-reaching. Leadership=overreaching. Actually, leadership gets translated into the public vernacular as “cramming it down our throats,” an evocative bit of phraseology to apply to a duly passed bill within the normal working of a democratic government.

The Republicans now want “leadership” from Obama on the fiscal cliff. Oh, sure they do. People want “leadership” on gun control, all of a sudden. Maybe some “leadership” on climate too! You want to know what leadership is? Pick an issue, find out who is opposing the thing you want to happen, and start working to get him (her) disempowered. That’s how you give your side some actual leverage to work with. You want leadership? Show some.