Yes he can? Obama faces government shutdown, Syrian crisis and stalled Asia pivot

Most commentary on the US government shutdown concerns the apparent disregard some pigheaded Republicans have for the harm it could do to the American and global economies.

While the shutdown will likely be relatively short and its impact quite small, attention is already shifting to a potentially much more dangerous repeat performance over raising the debt ceiling in a couple of weeks.

No matter how ugly the politics gets over the next fortnight, and no matter how much the Tea Party cannot bear to see Obamacare implemented, good sense will most inevitably win out. The small number of moderate Republicans Obama needs will ultimately agree yet again to raise the debt ceiling rather than face the spectre of sovereign default by the world’s largest economy and its reserve currency, with Republican Speaker John Boehner already saying as much.

Budget and debt ceiling impasse is a very big story. But an even bigger one is quietly looming.

The Obama presidency may well soon be over, at least in terms of his ability to move the policy dial at home and abroad over the remaining three years he has in the White House.

When Obama was re-elected less than 12 months ago, his second term agenda was ambitious and clear.

First, domestic: Roll out Obamacare, regulate more tightly gun ownership to reduce senseless human carnage, give legal status to more than ten million undocumented migrants, and chart a long term path to a balanced budget via tax increases as well as spending cuts.

On the international front, Obama wanted to build on his first term’s ending of Bush’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq by supporting the Arab Spring’s transition into stabler democracy and then pivoting his foreign policy away from the Middle East and towards Asia.

A year later, every element of that agenda is now in trouble if not yet in tatters.

Washington is grossly dysfunctional. Most of the blame lies at the feet of the Republican right that hates Obama with a rare passion.

But Obama shot to global prominence in 2004 as a uniter not a divider. His 2008 victory, his GFC stimulus in partnership with the Ben Bernanke’s Federal Reserve, and the passage into law of the most important health care reforms in 50 years, were all evidence that “yes, he could”.

No more, ever since the Tea Party insurgency helped the Republicans win control of the House of Representatives in 2010. Now they are determined to fight tooth and nail against what they and many voters consider the un-American policy lynchpin of Obamacare — mandating that all Americans take out health insurance. They cannot undo the legislation they despise, but they can make and have made forward movement – on anything – extremely difficult and very painful for Obama.

The president’s ballyhooed gun control push died with barely a whimper in Congress because opposition to Obama’s agenda extended beyond the Tea party, with salt rubbed into the wounds by the recent massacre on a US Navy base near Washington.

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