In my Sunday column, I suggested that the most interesting part of President Obama’s second inaugural address Monday may be the “steely notes” – reminders to his Republican adversaries that he won the presidential election by a significant margin and his description of what kind of mandate he thinks he has.
But since I wrote those words, I’ve decided I’m just as interested in the flip side of the proposition: What kind of outstretched hand will Obama offer to any Republicans who are willing to meet him halfway?
Since his reelection in November, Obama has understandably been intent on making sure the GOP absorbed the lessons of its defeat. He forced Republicans to concede an income tax increase in the negotiations over the “fiscal cliff” without giving much in return. He appears to be on the verge of another such victory, a GOP agreement to raise the federal debt ceiling.
But those are only tactical wins. The larger goal is a broader fiscal agreement that increases tax revenues, cuts future spending and shrinks the federal deficit. That will require more than the kind of short-term brinkmanship we’ve seen so far. Like any successful negotiation, it will require giving something to both sides and allowing the weaker party – in this case, the GOP – to save face.