Obama needs a lasting message

Barack Obama’s triumph over his recalcitrant opposition during the government shutdown pointed to the deep divisions in the Republican Party. Sen. Mitch McConnell, putting his country first, decided to make a deal with Harry Reid and place pressure on John Boehner’s crew in the House of Representatives. Eighty-seven Republicans joined Democrats in ending the two-week-old stoppage of the government.

Although Obama was handed another symbolic victory, it still begs the question of “what now? Democrats?” In August, Obama appeared as if he were in a trap of his own making over Syria. He smartly threw the question into Congress’ lap and magically he was freed from his own barriers. Syria is scarcely in the news much less threatened by American military action. But Obama is still bogged down on immigration and other vital reforms.

For Democrats, the perils of dealing with one house of congress in the hands of the opposition has done much to muddy the party’s message. As in the Clinton years, they appear to play defense, reacting to the opposition rather than shaping an agenda for the future. Obama, whose faith in bipartisanship was almost mystical at the beginning of his presidency, now is stymied by an unrelenting opposition.

For Obama, this style of tactical politics must be frustrating.

Although he has used speeches to try to change the state of political discourse, his initiatives still are bogged down. Fortunately Republicans boosted him by seeming to oppose simply to oppose. Now, surveys show voters by 51 to 44 percent wanting government to do more rather than less. The shutdown made the point that the GOP placed partisan considerations ahead of the national interest.

So the “bully pulpit” mixed with unintended consequences helped give Obama a boost. But what the party can agree on for the future is a little less than certain. Obama’s inherent moderation has limited his message as a good government one.

There are limitations as the first glitches concerning the Affordable Care Act. This looks like neither good government nor good planning. It’s very hard to appear smart when, after years of planning the rollout of Obamacare, it was less than smooth.

But thanks to the GOP, this is not what the public focused on. The shutdown seemed infinitely worse than the bungling of the website.

Although the media wants to blame Ted Cruz entirely, the Republican Party has engaged in a four-year and nine-month filibuster of the Obama administration.

Cruz played to the galleries as did Joe McCarthy in the 1950s. But like McCarthy, he had quite a few allies; Cruz was pilloried as if he had thought of the idea. Cruz’s actions were consistent with what Republicans had been doing from the very beginning.

For the next three years and three months, however, Obama has to lay this aside and give the Democratic Party a message that can last.

Although he can point to his enemies, it does not suffice as an explanation of what Democrats want to achieve in the future.