When Obama says people should drop their political rhetoric, he means everyone else.
The most telling sign that Obama's presidency has been shorn of its pretensions to greatness is not rhetorical but substantive. Obama began his presidency using his deficit reduction commission as an excuse not to worry about the debt or deficit, as he borrowed trillions of dollars more. When the commission released its recommendations, he politely ignored them.
Ever since Obama's decision to extend the George W. Bush tax cuts until 2013, he's been pulled in a direction not of his choosing. Amid talk of a second stimulus, he began the year with a budget that increased the deficit, and it sank without a ripple, voted down 97-0. In April, after the GOP came out with the Ryan plan, Obama offered a new, fake counter-budget in the form of a gaseous speech. And until recently the White House still thought it could get a "clean" debt-ceiling hike simply by insisting on it.
The national conversation now is not one he wants to have. "I'd rather be talking about stuff that everyone welcomes, like new programs," he said at Monday's news conference. But, "The politics that swept (John Boehner) into the speakership were good for a midterm election. They're tough for governing."
But even as Obama has been forced to put aside his understanding of what governing means, Clinton's point is still valid. When it comes to getting the deal done, it's very difficult to go around the presidency, and it's very easy for the president to declare victory even after a failure. Obama may not be bringing much to the table, but it remains his table -- because it came with the office.