One of the great political debates in Washington–and around the country–has been about whether Barack Obama is a highly partisan Democrat bent on a liberal agenda or a centrist searching for compromise. It’s still early in his second term, but he has recently made moves that seem to answer the question. Obama could easily choose a partisan strategy that would be politically effective: Don’t make deals with the Republicans on immigration or entitlement reform, and go into the 2014 congressional elections with those problems still live. A deal on either front would allow Republicans to share credit and, most important, take the issue off the table. With no deal, Democrats could campaign as the guardians of Medicare and advocates of immigration reform, both electoral winners. For this reason, some Democratic Senators have begun to make demands well beyond what Republicans can accept.
We don’t need a grand bargain. Even moderate reform–on immigration, gun control, energy policy and (most difficult) the budget–would give a powerful boost to the country, beyond the specific economic impact. Politicians could demonstrate that they can actually govern. Everyone would get some credit. America would have found its center.