It is somehow fitting that President Obama had to go to China to get a lesson in the yin and yang of governing and politics. Heading into the third and final leg of his 24,000-mile, three-country, two-continent diplomatic journey, the president this week has seen up close the duality so prized by Taoists in the up-and-down, good-and-bad of his policy pronouncements and interactions with other world leaders.
Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping held what were widely considered good and productive talks in Beijing, resulting in a potentially historic agreement on curbing carbon emissions as well as a critical accord on military maneuvers. But the warmth of those agreements was balanced by the frostiness of the two presidents' concluding press conference, where Xi lectured Obama—and the White House press corps—while doing little to hide his anger. The White House had pushed hard for Xi to take questions. But they couldn't have enjoyed the answers.
Nor did the White House have much time to revel in the climate agreement that had been so elusive but, for the first time, got the world's biggest polluter to agree to limit its emissions. Obama hailed it as "a major milestone in the U.S.-China relationship," contending that "it shows what's possible when we work together on an urgent global challenge." But to Republicans back home, it simply shows what happens when they let the president make deals with foreign leaders. House Speaker John Boehner called it "the latest example of the president's crusade against affordable, reliable energy" and said it was "yet another sign that the president intends to double down on his job-crushing policies."