With the Capitol Hill horror show on hiatus, the President has an opening to power up and start moving Washington toward some semblance of being functional again.
His strength is in a sizable approval advantage over the Congressional clowns who are back home to placate voters for whom incumbent is now a dirty word. With his numbers over 50 percent, he is well ahead of Republicans in hiding who have gained only a few points against the Democratic Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight.
As Evan Bayh bows out and John McCain starts to run scared, there is bipartisan panic in the air over November, which will result in Republicans gains no doubt but also put pressure on them to offer angry voters something more than monolithic opposition to everything.
All this liberates the President to flex his muscles from now until then and begin to act unilaterally. “We are reviewing a list of presidential executive orders and directives to get the job done across a front of issues,” Rahm Emanuel says.
A more assertive Obama could gain ground with voters who still admire him but are disappointed in his failure to deliver over Washington gridlock. If he steps up, his approval numbers will rise, and panicky Democrats will grab for his shortened coattails.
Where did he go wrong in a tumultuous first year? His attempts at bipartisanship were doomed--you can't play tennis with nobody on the other side of the net--but he can't be faulted for trying. What he might have done, however, after every House Republican and all but three Senators voted against the stimulus in February, is recognize their intractability sooner and start governing with more confidence in his mandate.
He compounded this failure by letting health care turn into a circus, deferring to Max Baucus and Senate "centrists" whose greedy power plays produced an incomprehensible mess and public disgust with the process.
Now he can take charge, strip down the bill to essentials and put Congress in front of a public-opinion firing squad if it fails to deliver something. Voters want reform of some kind, and he should be out front demanding it.
All this is asking Barack Obama to make a turn in his temperamental inclination to be rational and reasonable with antagonists and start showing the strength that his admirers know is in him.
Other presidents have grown in office. It's time for him to start.