Barack Obama has an abiding faith in his persuasiveness. He seems to genuinely believe that he is a master negotiator and deal-maker, someone who can solve any problem by flapping his yap. Given how important speeches have been to his political career, one can see why he believes this. But it is totally unfounded.
Obama’s signature legislative accomplishments came when he had three-fifths majorities in both houses of Congress. The stimulus and the health care bill both barely made it through even with those supermajories. Cap and trade, card check, and dozens of less priorities (like the federal budget) didn’t even make it through then. From the health care bill to the retention of the tax cuts, the details were substantially worked out by Congress, with the president ratifying whatever seemed likely to pass before disaster struck.
None of this should have given us any reason to think he would be particularly good at negotiating with a Republican House, and so far he really hasn’t been. The deal he has belatedly gotten behind is in effect a product of Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell, and John Boehner. As Ross Douthat notes in today’s New York Times, Obama has mainly been a too-clever-by half bystander in the major decisions of his presidency.
If the debt deal becomes law, Obama will no take credit and burnish his centrist credentials in the process. But nothing here ought to give us any faith that he will talk our way toward peace in the Middle East.