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Friday, December 9, 2016

WASHINGTON — What is President Obama fighting for? What is the point of his second term? His ability to answer these questions in a compelling way will have more to do with his success or failure than all the Republican congressional investigations combined.

Up to now, support for the president has held up in the face of the GOP offensive thanks to an improving economy and because many voters — especially Obama’s partisans — see the Republicans hyping problems into scandals to distract attention from their own divisions and their shortage of solutions.

The real danger for Obama is that the coming months could become a summer of discontent if those who currently back the president lose track of where he wants to lead the country and abandon hope in Washington’s capacity to make things better.

Already, there is a feeling of demobilization on the progressive side of politics. The liberal writer Paul Waldman captured the problem recently with this question on The American Prospect‘s website: “What is the grand battle in which liberals are now engaged?”

His response: “For the first time in a decade, there isn’t one.” While the next three years could well be “decisive for the liberal project,” he wrote, “it doesn’t feel that urgent to liberals.”

Obama needs to restore a sense of urgency. But how?

Given a president’s power, there are many ways for him to alter the media agenda, and he seized on some of them this week. On Tuesday, Obama announced three appointees to the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals, directly confronting Republican obstruction of his judicial nominees. Obama should have taken on this battle long ago, but it was a welcome step.