Barack Obama is, of course, very far from a deft executive, and in the course of 2011 and 2012, especially on fiscal issues, we learned that it was the latter outcome that would come to pass. Our various budget showdowns have all begun with attempts at a House-White House deal and have all ended with a House-Senate process (or more precisely a Senate-House process, with apologies to the Constitution’s origination clause). Obviously the fact that Obama is a Democrat and not a Republican has given these deals their general direction, but the details have been worked out in Congress. This has been in part because both Boehner and Obama seem to think a House-White House deal has to a big bargain, but it’s also in part because a divided congress just naturally makes such deals difficult.
The election apparently hasn’t changed that, and the fiscal cliff “process” now seems to be making its way toward roughly the same conclusion. This has to do with the president’s ineptness at negotiation (and indeed at much of anything except self-congratulation and campaigning) but, again, it also has to do with the dynamics of a divided congress, which would take a truly exceptional chief executive to overcome. But you wouldn’t have to be all that exceptional to accept this reality and make the most of it, rather than spend the days leading up to the conclusion of each of these fiscal showdowns desperately trying to draw attention to yourself and make your role look more central and significant than it is. The president’s appearance on Meet the Press today was downright pathetic in this regard, as have been his various press statements in the past few days. This sort of preening and lecturing from a politician who has basically just failed to do his job is bizarre.