President Obama assumed office four years ago in the midst of a crisis; the nation’s financial markets were collapsing and taking a large part of the economy with them. Today, Obama launches his second term, and, despite an improving economy, some sense of crisis remains. But this time, the focus is less on Wall Street than on Washington, where Congress itself has struck several blows to the economy, and threatens an even greater one by refusing to raise the debt ceiling, forcing a default of government bonds.
Now, as in 2009, all eyes are on Obama. His inaugural address will be dedicated to capturing the moment in a way that sets the stage for the next four years. Both today and in upcoming weeks, he needs to remind Congress that, while voting one’s conscience is honorable, using procedural tactics to block others from voting their own conscience is not. And threatening to inflict damage on the nation’s economy as a tactic to force concessions from one’s opponents is, on its face, repugnant. It’s a difficult task. But Obama needs to make his arguments in a way that appeals to everyone’s best instincts, and is dedicated less to finger-pointing than to elevating the discussion.