In his essay “Politics as a Vocation,” the German sociologist Max Weber famously wrote that “politics is a strong and slow boring of hard boards.” In this sense, it seems possible that Barack Obama has finally come to embrace the vocation of politics as he begins his second term as president.
I’m saddened by some of what Obama has learned on the way to becoming the politician who can drill those hard boards. I like his voice better when he tries to speak to all Americans, including those who didn’t vote for him, than when he offers a programmatic agenda, as he did in his second inaugural speech. I found his speech to mourners in Newtown, Conn., more presidential than his address Monday at the Capitol, precisely because it was less political.
But Obama didn’t get much for his post-partisan attempts to unite the country other than gratuitous swipes from Republican legislators. At times over the past four years he seemed like the last person in Washington to believe in the center. But no more. Now to the politics of the agenda, of the patient, dry-eyed battle to move forward on issues that matter to him: climate change, gay rights, economic justice and the protection of social programs.