Obama’s second inaugural

President Obama's second inaugural comes at an interesting moment, what you might call the end of the era of the Grand Bargain. Throughout his first term, Democrats and Republicans didn't achieve a Grand Bargain on spending and taxes, but there was a sense that history was moving in that direction.

The "fiscal-cliff" fiasco has persuaded many smart people that a Grand Bargain is not going to happen any time soon. A political class that botched the fiscal cliff so badly is not going to be capable of a gigantic deal on complex issues. It's like going into a day-care centre and asking a bunch of infants to perform Swan Lake.

Polarisation is too deep. Special interests are too strong. The negotiators are too rusty. Republicans are not going to give up their vision of a low-tax America. Democrats are not willing to change the current entitlement programmes. So as the president enters his second term, there has to be a new controlling narrative, a new strategy for how to spend the next four years.

As you know, I am an earnest, good-government type, so the strategy I'd prefer might be called Learning to Crawl. It would be based on the notion that you have to learn to crawl before you can run. So over the next four years, legislators should work on a series of realistic, incremental laws that would rebuild the habits of compromise, competence and trust. Political leaders would erode partisan orthodoxies and get back into the habit of passing laws together. Then, down the road, their successors could do the big things.

I may be earnest, but I'm not an idiot. I know there is little chance that today's partisan players are going to adopt this kind of incremental goo-goo approach. It's more likely that today's majority party is going to adopt a different strategy, which you might call Kill the Wounded. It's more likely that today's Democrats are going to tell themselves something like this:

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