The first refuge of any politician in trouble is that it's a communication problem, not a policy problem. If only I explained what I was doing better, the people would be more supportive. Which roughly translates to If only you people paid attention, you wouldn't be kicking me upside the head.
Unfortunately, the Republicans have succeeded in persuading a large enough portion of the American public that if the patient had been left entirely alone, he would be in perfect health today. This is surely a fairy story. But voters naturally pay little attention to calamities averted. They focus only on how far experience falls short of what they desire. Mr Obama gains no credit for the former and much blame for the latter. His aspirational rhetoric no doubt worsened the disappointment.
The president's willingness to ask for too little was, it turns out, a huge strategic error. It allows his opponents to argue that the Democrats had what they wanted, which then failed. If the president had failed to get what he demanded, he could argue that the outcome was not his fault. With a political stalemate expected, further action will now be blocked. A lost decade seems quite likely. That would be a calamity for the US -- and the world.
A blogger at The Economist:
By some measures, America already has a lost decade in its rear-view mirror. A couple more would mean a lost generation. Worst of all, it would mean my generation. I thought I was unlucky graduating into the tech bust. I had no idea.
Of course, the past ten years hasn't been lost in the way that the next ten years might be.
We are a lost generation, desperately clinging to anything that feels real, but too afraid to become it ourselves. We are a defeated generation, resigned to the hypocrisy of those before us, who once sang songs of rebellion and now sell them back to us. We are the last generation, a culmination of all previous things, destroyed by the vapidity that surrounds us.
If only there were a game, whose winning required a gift for the identification of missed opportunities and of things lost and irrecoverable, a knack for the belated recognition of truths, for the exploitation of chances in imagination after it is too late!
The implicit assumption of these arguments about strategy is that there is, somewhere out there, a workable strategy. That there is some way to navigate our political system such that you enact wise legislation solving pressing problems. But that's an increasingly uncertain assumption, I think.
I said I'd do something about this, and I am.