Was Obama’s ‘hope’ only a hype?
President Obama’s behaviour after his defeat in the midterm elections was astounding. Early in the morning after Election Day, the White House released a picture of the President on the phone, congratulating John Boehner, the next Republican Speaker of the House. That's where the clue is!
If Obama is to win again, he needs to move back to the pragmatic centre of what is still a conservative country. He has to win back the independent vote that put him in the saddle 2 years ago and that deserted him now in droves.
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The picture captures a relaxed man, confident as ever, smiling, not someone who showed that he had understood the message the voters sent him… Obama could have appeared on television, promising to take heed of the voter’s message. That is what Bill Clinton did after suffering his mid-term setback in 1994.
Obama blamed the weak economy and bad communications for his losses. He conceded that he had received a ‘shellacking’ and that ‘some election nights are more fun than others’. He accepted that the ultimate responsibility for the result rested with him. ‘I’ve got to do a better job’, Obama said and added in the same sentence ‘just as everybody else in Washington’… But the efforts of journalists in the day-after press conference to get the president to say that policies of the last two years on health care, stimulus package, ‘tough’ new financial regulatory reforms or anything else might have been mistaken came to naught.
Perhaps the biggest danger President Obama faces in the coming months is that he will take the elections results in his stride. The defeat was not sweeping. While Republicans gained more than 60 seats in the House, Sara Palin backed Tea Party nominees in Delaware, Nevada and Alaska cost their chance on control of the Senate. This will make it easier for Obama to blame the weak economy and bad communications for his losses than fundamentally reassessing how he governs.
But the lesson for the President is simple: prepare for a tough two years. It was hardly an enthusiastic vote for the Republicans, more a howl of rage against incumbents from citizens struggling after the worst slowdown of the economy since the thirties. Many centrists fear that Obama has drifted too far to the left. For many voters he crossed the bridge from America’s self-reliance to the European ‘nanny-state’. They think that he dislikes business and he does not understand middle America.
If Obama is to win again, he needs to move back to the pragmatic centre of what is still a conservative country. He has to win back the independent vote that put him in the saddle 2 years ago and that deserted him now in droves. The most important is to deliver jobs. He has to build businessmen’s confidence, coaxing them to spend some of their cash hoards; offer tax reforms that would make commerce simpler and do more to show that he understands how wealth is created.
The question is how the Republicans will act. For two years they have refused to cooperate, simply to deny President Obama a victory and to try to reduce his re-election prospects for 2012. What wants Mr. Boehner to do with the deficit the country inherited from President Bush? Reduce it by cutting spending, increasing taxes, or a combination of both?
Obama has clearly not been able to deliver on all the exaggerated hopes that he deliberately encouraged in 2008. But that doesn’t mean politics will be easy for the winners of 2010.