We learned almost nothing about Barack Obama’s second term during his re-election campaign. We will learn almost everything about that second term in the next four weeks.
We already know that the president intends to be more deeply involved in foreign affairs beyond Iraq and Afghanistan; Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s mercy mission to the Middle East as Hamas rockets were being launched from Gaza and as Israeli troops were massing on the frontier signaled a more aggressive approach. Similar initiatives may be forthcoming, especially as Iran moves closer to possessing nuclear-weapons capability.
As fraught with danger as foreign affairs are, the domestic situation may be even more challenging. This is not the time to determine which of the two American parties is most like Hamas or Hezbollah, or Netanyahu or Ahmadinejad -- such comparisons conceal more than they reveal. It is useful at this juncture merely to observe that the principals in Washington are intransigent by nature and their positions irreconcilable by definition.
But taking on the difficult is what the presidency is for. “No easy matters will ever come to you,” Dwight Eisenhower told his successor on the eve of John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961, and Obama has been fond of saying in 2012 that if a decision makes its way to his desk, it is because no one below him was able to resolve it. After the election, House Speaker John Boehner and even some of those tannin-eyed members of the Tea Party recognize this, and its corollary: At certain times in history, the presidency is pre-eminent.
This is one of those times, which is why most attention is on the White House and not the Capitol as the thorny economic issues facing Washington are rolled out, and, if this is a truly lucky nation, worked out.