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Ruth Marcus: No joy this time around

BY RUTH MARCUS Published: January 18, 2013
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I repeat: How naive — how sad — this sounds in retrospect.

The president who stood in the East Room on Monday for the final news conference of his first term asserted that House Republicans “have suspicions about whether government should make sure that kids in poverty are getting enough to eat.”

So much for the end to conflict and discord.

What went wrong? Obama is partly to blame. Initial outreach notwithstanding, he was aloof. He failed to build relationships — even with fellow Democrats. Worse, at key moments, he negotiated ineptly; he ducked repeatedly when he should have led. The candidate whose rhetorical prowess catapulted him to national prominence proved particularly inept in office at summoning public support.

But also: Obama's animating vision of a transported politics was never realistic. As a general matter, vows to change Washington are destined for the dustbin of history. And in this specific moment, no Democratic president would have fared much better against an implacable Republican opposition.

That this outcome was predictable does not make it any less disappointing. And the ferocity of Republican animus toward Obama and the party's willingness to push issues such as the debt ceiling to the brink, and possibly beyond, have been astonishing even to realists — or cynics — like me.

Inaugurations reflect the apex of democracy, the peaceful transfer or continuation of power. But this one occurs at a moment when our democracy seems incapable of fixing the serious problems the nation confronts.

It has been a long four years since that joyous moment on the Mall. The next four, I fear, will feel even longer.

WASHINGTON POST WRITERS GROUP