Second-term credibility: Finally, what's so intriguing about the Hagel business is that it seems to be part of a broader story. Rarely, if ever, has a president had his top two national security cabinet picks opposed so vehemently before they were even nominated. Susan Rice was forced to withdraw; the same fate may well await Chuck Hagel.
If the White House does pull the plug on Hagel -- the not-quite-yet and maybe-never nominee -- all kinds of conclusions will be drawn. Some will blame it on the neocons and the pro-Israel lobby; others will wonder why the White House didn't do a better job of looking at the former senator's past statements or question why Obama caved and didn't do a Tammy Wynette-style "Stand by Your Man" routine.
For me, the main takeaway of this episode is that a popular second-term president -- one of only 17 in U.S. history -- just isn't as influential as some would like to believe. Even in an area -- national security -- where he's supposed to be fully in command.
The second-term illusion -- that a president now freed from political constraints of reelection can afford to be bold, tough, and have his way -- remains pretty much that. Whether it's gun control, the fiscal cliff, the debt ceiling, or Israeli-Palestinian peace, Obama is in for some very tough fights with Congress and the special interests. That he may go 0 for 2 on his preferred cabinet picks may only be the beginning of the story.