"After the election, I have political capital, and I intend to spend it". And then George W. Bush spent it on Social Security privatization, a fine idea that went nowhere. His political capital account was empty for the rest of his presidency.
Political capital is like that -- it's highly perishable.
Barack Obama thinks he has some to spend, too.
What he wants to spend it on is strange: things that he could be defeated on.
Obama says he will fight over the fiscal cliff, with a big tax increase hanging in the balance. Obama said he'll propose comprehensive immigration reform in early 2013. And he's defiant about sending a controversial name - Susan Rice - the U.S. Senate to be confirmed as Secretary of State.
Some thoughts, in reverse order.
A Rice domination is a waste of political capital. Her nomination is dead on arrival, and all it would take is one Senator to put a member's hold to tie the process up indefinitely. It would be foolish to pick a fight with Congress that can't be won. Rice is hopelessly tied up in the obviously not-true videotapes-cause-the-riot story about the Libya attacks. She's damaged goods.
Immigration reform is a more interesting question. There may be enough Republicans who think amnesty will win Hispanic votes that the issue could be in-play. The question is whether the President 'goes big' or 'goes small'. I think a narrow bill focusing on the Dream Act (the children of illegals who were brought here by their parents) could pass with GOP support. Broader amnesty is probably a non-starter.
A deal on the fiscal cliff is a tangled mess. The compromise probably lies in allowing a smaller percentage of the Bush tax cuts to stand for the wealthy -- maybe households over $250,000 would keep half the tax cuts from four years ago -- allowing middle income residents to keep all of it. A deal would still have to be tied to rolling back sequestration cuts and raising the debt ceiling.
President Obama feels emboldened because his ideas won the election. That's not so cut-and-dry. Congressmen like Sean Duffy and Reed Ribble were elected with the expectation that they wouldn't raise taxes. Ballots cast for them are no less legitimate than votes cast for Barack Obama.