Bloomberg's Ticker nicely summarizes where we might be, given where we are:
From the Hagel nomination and debt-ceiling fight, we'll know whether that era [of Obamian retreat] has ended. The question is no longer whether Obama can defeat the Republicans; the election proved he could. The question is whether the tables have turned and Obama will use the power of his office to intensify polarization--with the goal of breaking an increasingly brittle opposition party.
Indeed, the umbrella issue of Obama's use of retaliatory presidential power overshadows even looming catastrophes such as a ceiling collapse. Last night I finished a brilliant, scholarly history of ancient Carthage's long-suffering contest with Rome (Richard Miles' Carthage Must Be Destroyed), whose striking relevance needs no interpretation: "Hannibal's poor understanding of the Romans' obdurate mentality" led him to "let the wounded Roman beast escape."
OK, one interpretation: Oops.
I have argued--and argued, and argued--that Obama should have come out of the post-election gate swinging. He should, to be blunt, have attempted to finish the wounded Republican beast. He did not. He instead instantly offered to compromise on tax rates and associated items, which, in my opinion, was a self-wounding and superfluous display of Obamian "reasonableness." It's all right. It's done. And besides, one could intelligently counterargue, as many have, that Obama always had the debt ceiling at which he could draw his intransigent line. If a noteworthy tactical difference there was, it lay only in timing (which I nonetheless thought strategically crucial, others less so).
So, in effect, we're where we started. Now, as then, how Obama proceeds will determine whether the badly wounded beast can recover and itself proceed to wreak all manner of feral, endless destruction on Carthage America--or the creature is put out of our misery. Obama possesses only a couple of years to accomplish the latter; and in the long run, it would be his greatest legacy.