The president and Congress just haven't gotten along. In tonight's speech, he'll face a tough political calculus yet again.
For two and a half years, President Obama has walked a narrow lane, like one of the bike strips that Mike Bloomberg (more technocratic, but of a like mind) paved in the middle of Manhattan streets. Obama aimed at the reasonable middle but found it very lonely: Washington's reasonable columnists and sympathetic centrists might get what he's doing, but to everyone else who wants him to succeed--still a majority of the country--he can seem stubborn and even impotent.
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This is surprising given that Obama is the first president since John F. Kennedy to have been drawn from the Senate. It is not surprising given that Republicans are not only obstructionist when out of power--none of them voted for Bill Clinton's tax hikes either--but have taken a fencing match and turned it into a gun battle, twice bringing the government perilously close to the brink. This leaves any reasonable man looking lonelier by the day.
Which brings us to tonight's speech.
The mix of tax cuts, infrastructure increases, employment incentives, and spending increases contained in the $300 billion package the president will reveal before Congress is far milder than the sweeping policies that Obama's economic advisers believe are needed to convince businesses to hire and consumers to spend. Indeed, it's a document that seems resigned to being reasonable. Most of the proposals, save an extension of unemployment benefits, were at one point associated with mainstream Republicans. That's the point.