Wednesday, January 2, 2013


The US Congress has avoided the "fiscal cliff."  In doing so, however, it also left the door wide open for the next battles about spending cuts and the debt ceiling. The Republicans are bruised and the Democrats are frustrated. The Grand Bargain is a thing of the past.

One can argue the merits of the cliff deal but the heart of the matter is of a more structural nature. The second term of the President risks being overtaken by a domestic agenda, while the world is in flames. The Republicans who swallowed the bitter pill of tax increase (still 151 voted against and the leadership was divided) will not be part of a divisive encore. The left wing of the Democrats feels equally betrayed. The political  discourse will be dominated by issues which might very well derail Obama's priorities.
The President has been a distant, often aloof negotiator who ruffled more feathers than needed. Without his vice-president, who has the common touch and is used to a more bi-partisan approach, a deal would have been even more inextricable.  Nevertheless, the political cost for the administration remains lethal. The United States might have to face acts two and three of a drama wherein brinkmanship will overtake bi-partisanship.

But the President has gone back on vacation in Hawaii. As a good politician he should have invited the Republican and Democratic leaders to the White House to discuss the road ahead and to express some thanks for what must have been for some an awesome choice to make. There seems to be a Benghazi syndrome in the White House, a reluctance to explain, apologize (when needed), breach distance and walls. Where are David Axelrod, Jim Messina or David Plouffe ?  Goodwill does not come cheap. Former presidents were able to set prejudice aside and create a pragmatic "win/win" context, so that no party lost face.

The President will be inaugurated later this month for his second term.  His State of the Union address will follow.  I doubt that the former enthusiasm can be rejuvenated.  I mostly fear the "Ides of March" when the real battles will rattle the patience and stamina of most.  Too many feel humiliated or wounded. The healer-in-chief looks too premeditated for his own good and the man of change could end up as yesterday's  poster.  In reality, the United States almost finds itself again in pre-campaign mood, given that Obama is already considered a "lame duck."  It is a rather depressing situation and many, including myself, have the feeling that they were cheated. This is too bad since the alternative does not look that great either.  The Tea Party might find new vigor in this sullen political landscape, as the vote in the House has indicated.

Paradoxically, the United States has caught the former "Euro blues" flu while the EU has entered a slow path to recovery since Mario Draghi became head of the European Central Bank.  Ironic for sure, but never underestimate American resilience, which has more staying power than the politicians who are supposed to represent values which they are too often the first to turn topsy-turvy.

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