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December 29, 2013

Presidency beset by fits

WASHINGTON — It was a moment for Barack Obama to savor.

His second inaugural address over, Obama paused as he strode from the podium last January, turning back for one last glance across the expanse of the National Mall, where a supportive throng stood in the winter chill to witness the launch of his new term.

“I want to take a look, one more time,” Obama said quietly. “I’m not going to see this again.”

There was so much Obama could not — or did not — see then, as he opened his second term with a confident call to arms and an expansive liberal agenda.

He’d never heard of Edward Snowden, who would lay bare the government’s massive surveillance program. Large-scale use of chemical weapons in Syria was only a threat. A government shutdown and second debt crisis seemed improbable. His health care law, the signature achievement of his presidency, seemed poised to make the leap from theory to reality.

Obama had campaigned for re-election on the hope that a second term would bring with it a new spirit of compromise after years of partisan rancor on Capitol Hill.

“My expectation is that there will be some popping of the blister after this election, because it will have been such a stark choice,” he’d said.

Instead, great expectations disappeared in fumbles and failures.

Fractured Republicans, tugged to the right by the tea party, swore off compromise. The president’s outreach to Congress was somewhere between lacking and non-existent. Obama’s team dropped the ball on his health care law.

Snowden’s revelations had Democrats and Republicans alike calling for tighter surveillance rules. Foreign leaders were in a huff — Brazil’s president snubbing the offer of a White House state dinner, Germany’s Angela Merkel incensed that her cell phone calls had been intercepted. The president’s misplaced pledge that people who liked their health plans would be able to keep them ran into a harsh reality as millions saw their coverage canceled.

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