We have in the current GOP a truly disturbing and cynical view of politics: there is nothing but party and ideology and the former is a vehicle solely for power to enact the other. The zero GOP votes for a stimulus package in the middle of the fastest downturn since the 1930s (that was one-third tax cuts!) tells you all you need to know. And the Republican adoption of utopian, John Birch fantasies about rolling back the legacy of Woodrow Wilson makes any sane engagement with this party impossible. It is no longer run by anyone in Congress, but directed by talk radio, Fox News, Sarah Palin's Twitter account and Manichean ranters like radio host Mike Levin. If any government action is regarded as tyranny, then there is never any way to compromise. The fundamental problem lies with a deranged, ideological and dangerous opposition in a system designed to forge pragmatic compromise.
Mr Obama's difficult goalto lead from the centre while keeping his base and his opponents appeasedis a work in progress.
But the system, it seems to me, is working fine in its reining in of a highly activist president after two years. He now has to prove his case. My sense is that, given the extremism of the opposition, he will win in the endand, indeed, his entire presidency is only understood by thinking of strategy rather than tactics. But it is equally possible that the GOP will continue to radicalise, making its own future governance impossible, and the critical need to address long-term debt an after-thought. But if Republicans remain this way and somehow end up in the White House, they will come to regret it. For they have legitimised a kind of scorched-earth partisanship that will only weaken one day their own ability to get anything done at all.