The main policy achievement that liberals have made since the election was the tax increase at the start of the year, which led some to suggest that Obama had broken Republican opposition to higher taxes. But the most powerful force in that debate was inertia, not Obama: Taxes were already scheduled to rise, and the legislation just limited the increase.

The fiscal fights since then haven’t gone well for the White House. Its scare talk about the sequestration has been quietly abandoned because most Americans aren’t seeing any effect from it in their own lives. Obama wanted to replace some of the sequestration cuts with increased revenue. The bill that Congress passed to fund the government through September instead left the cuts in place and added no revenue. He felt he had to sign it. …

Obama’s inability to make the most of what ought to be liberalism’s moment may reflect his weak relationships with lawmakers in both parties and lack of interest in strengthening them. That complaint is often heard on Capitol Hill. Republicans also say they prefer to deal with Vice President Joe Biden, who negotiates, rather than with Obama, who lectures them.

It may also be a result of the geography of Obama’s majority coalition. His voters are concentrated in major metropolitan areas. Even if the last round of gerrymandering hadn’t favored the Republicans, it would be hard to assemble a House majority from Obama’s voters.