The wary, weary world is watching President Obama closely right now, to see where he stands on the pyramid of power. It's an "in between" time, like an intermission, in American politics, and it's up to him to show us how he will be the change we want to see.
The General Petraeus scandal he wisely let go, even though the FBI had at least one bad actor. Then, Barack Obama spent several tense days into nights with the Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi, talking on the telephone, before Thanksgiving, about the Israel-Palestinian crisis.
That was all good, right? It offered real evidence that Obama was getting more personally engaged with his job, understanding there are some things only presidents can say or do. So it seemed that decisively winning re-election had a salutary effect on Barack Obama. However, Morsi may have been playing a shell game, getting Obama's trust and support before making his pharaonic decree that he was above judicial review. Very nice. In the tempest of the Middle East, there are few innocents or fools to be found. One has to pick his friends and enemies carefully. Maybe next time.
Now comes an appointment that will reflect whether a bright and precocious leader has become tempered and wise along the way. After the fuss surrounding Susan Rice for secretary of state, Obama seems inclined to give the appointment to her just to spite her critics, Sens. Lindsay Graham and John McCain. That doesn't seem fair to the greater good, now does it. After Secretary Hillary Clinton's first-class performance on the world stage, her most worthy successor is Sen. John Kerry, who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee. If it's true Rice was unspeakably rude to the late Richard Holbrooke in a meeting, shocking others, that alone raises questions about her diplomacy and judgment.
Rice worked on Obama's 2008 campaign. Yet the man who opened the doors wide for Obama's glorious future was Kerry. In a deft stroke of vision, he chose an unknown Senate candidate to deliver a soaring keynote speech to the 2004 Democratic convention. Talk about a debt of political gratitude.
If Kerry is not Obama's pick, then the second term may be much like his first: impressive yet with something hollow at the core. Like a meal that leaves you wanting more. I don't mean because of Kerry versus Rice alone, but that decision will be a signal to the watching world on how the president plans to operate.
To improve the level of Obama's play in dialogue with Congress as we speak, you'd hope he wouldn't just talk to the speaker of the House, Republican John Boehner, to come to a so-called fiscal cliff agreement. A bad idea, one can see from Bob Woodward's latest book, The Price of Politics, which exhaustively retells the summer of '11 story of the debt ceiling crisis. The president should know by now that he should be talking to his own party leaders, strategizing and galvanizing his own team. They're called Democrats. He should be seeing more of Nancy Pelosi, the savvy House Democratic leader, and less of the sly Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader who tried to run him out of town as a "one-term president."
Finally, here's the line in the sand for Obama and all ye faithful supporters: He absolutely must stick to his guns and let the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy expire, fall into the desert dust, and help pay for a war or two. It's not only the right thing to do, it's the right thing for him to show the world watching that he's going to govern with more force this time around.