President Barack Obama got roughed up by the pundit class last week. The question is what lessons he draws from the going-over. Here's one he should take: The nation's political conversation has grown stale and many Americans have lost the sense of what he is doing to improve their lives.
You can argue that this perception isn't fair. The Affordable Care Act, if it's implemented well, will improve a lot of lives. The economy is adding jobs, not shedding them. The deficit is coming down. Two front-burner initiatives, immigration reform and broader background checks -- yes, they'll be voted on again -- really do matter.
But the talk in Washington has been dominated by the same stuff we obsessed over in 2010, 2011 and 2012: a monotonous, uninspiring, insider clash over budgets. Even in that context, we barely discuss what government can do that would be helpful (except to air travelers).
Obama's defenders say that D.C. dysfunction should be laid at the feet of Republicans in Congress who are so invested in his failure that they even vote against things they are for. That's what Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., says happened on background checks.
Rather than criticize the president, says former chief White House speechwriter Jon Favreau, those who want him to succeed need to hold Republicans in the House and Senate accountable. The president can't do it by himself, Favreau said in The Daily Beast. He needs help from his supporters.
Well, sure. But the president also needs to ask himself why even his supporters are growing impatient.
If Obama wants to underscore that his problem is Republican obstruction, he should tell those GOP senators he likes to dine with that they need to come up with revenues very soon.
Similarly, it's worth asking why so many of Obama's own initiatives have dropped out of public view. Obama has called for raising the minimum wage to $9 an hour. Many Democrats in Congress think, correctly, that it should be set at $10. Would it be so hard for Obama to come out fighting for the minimum-wage increase -- and for other steps to bolster the incomes of those stuck at the bottom of the economy? Why not expose that none of this is happening because of GOP opposition?
Obama wants to provide universal pre-K education. This ought to be a bipartisan idea. Many Republican governors have embraced the concept in their own states. Shouldn't the president be pushing harder to get it on the media's radar by way of forcing a debate in Congress?
The president believes we need to spend more on our infrastructure to boost job creation now and to make us competitive for the long run. He's right. But he needs to make clear this is something that's genuinely important to him.
Remember the Mark Twain line that Wagner's music was better than it sounded? Obama's program has more to do with growth and opportunity than he usually lets on. If he wants to rally us, he might want to change this.
E.J. Dionne is a columnist for the Washington Post. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.