Virtually overnight, the resolution of the debt limit impasse, combined with the cooling off of the peril of military action against Syria, has enabled him to look ahead with an unexpected political tailwind behind him.
Having guided the country out of the Great Recession and moved to extricate it from two wars, he has just turned aside the all-out Republican assault on the prime domestic accomplishment of his presidency. With the opposition party in shambles, he has the opportunity at last to undertake aspects of the original agenda on which he sought the White House in 2008.
The president has already indicated his intention to resume the fight for immigration reform that foundered through the latest domestic and foreign crises. He can do this at a time when the tea party, a prime opponent of such reform, is reeling and Speaker John Boehner has clearly lost control of his House caucus.
Obama himself, for once holding firm in refusing to allow his foes to hold the country hostage in a widely unpopular government shutdown, has wisely resisted gloating over the outcome. His posture, in turn, gives moderate Republicans some rationale to abandon the obstructionism that the tea party has forced on them.
Expecting that they will do so may be foolhardy wishful thinking. Another tough fight lies ahead to trim back the sequester, the indiscriminate budget slashing that went into effect last January 1. But more level-headed GOP leaders of a certain age like Sen. John McCain, recalling earlier days of party and personal comity, have rightly condemned the partisan Republican combativeness that marked the shutdown crisis.
Obama's strategy in that late unpleasantness was to take himself out of the line of fire that tea-party assailants often voiced in personal terms. He allowed a late-blooming bipartisanship in the Senate to intervene, stealing the disruptive thunder on the House side and pulling the country from the brink of fiscal default and financial suicide.
His aloof posture fed criticism from fellow Democrats as well as Republicans that he was missing in action in the shutdown war. But Obama's way of not yielding to the blackmail of Sen. Ted Cruz and other fire-breathers finally carried the day.
The president consequently may be better positioned than at any previous time in his presidency to be the voice for the change in the way Washington works on which he campaigned in 2008. He has a new chance to provide leadership not merely for his own party but for so many Americans demanding that Congress end the legislative nonsense of the government shutdown and start conducting Washington's business as adults.
The folly of the Republican leaders building their revolt on trying to defund Obamacare was bad enough. It enabled the president to come off as the defender of the institutions of governance, under assault in the closing of official Washington and all those treasured monuments stirring true patriotism that knows no party.
The Grand Old Party of Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt, deeply in the grip of a narrow conservative spirit, needs to restore its brand bolstered under Ronald Reagan that also spoke in moderation under the congressional leadership of the likes of Bob Michel, Bob Dole, Howard Baker and Jack Kemp.
The time seems ripe for newcomers of that ilk to emerge as a counter to Ted Cruz, giving the Republican Party hope of rediscovering compromise as the art of the possible. As long as the ultraconservative zealots remain the boisterous voice of the party, however, it seems destined to stay on the same course of rigidity and vitriol that in recent weeks nearly led the country over a cliff.
(Jules Witcover's latest book is Joe Biden: A Life of Trial and Redemption" (William Morrow). You can respond to this column at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
(c) 2013 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.