Dealing with the fast-approaching “fiscal cliff” is not a national crisis on the order of abolishing slavery. The country is limping out of a recession, not embroiled in a bloody civil war.

Still, “Lincoln” offers lessons in the canny exercise of authority — the utility of the presidential office for congressional ego-stroking; the hidden, often grubby, levers of persuasion; the awesome force of a chief executive “clothed with immense power,” as Lincoln described the office. …

There is an obstinate naivete to the common assertions that more assiduous congressional stroking on Obama’s part would have guaranteed better results during his first term. The president confronted a united opposition, bent on denying him reelection; if anything, there were times — for example, negotiations over health-care reform — when he erred on the side of assuming that too much could be achieved by reasonable people reasoning together.

But anyone who has seen the lines of lawmakers of both parties waiting patiently at White House holiday receptions for their turn at a presidential photo op recognizes the allure of access to the chief executive. Relationships matter. They build trust and mutual understanding. As Lincoln appreciated, a bit of presidential schmoozing never hurts.