THE MIDTERM ELECTIONS
Intellectually, Barack Obama understands the implications of the midterm-election results for his presidency. And he did a pretty good job at his East Room press conference setting the tone and cauterizing his wounds--especially since privately, he stands by his record and thinks Republicans gave him that electoral shellacking by demagoguing economic and spending issues without offering solutions of their own.
Obama shifted from months of confrontational rhetoric to emphasizing the common ground that defined his candidacy in 2008. This effort at conciliation, combined with a new focus on the economy and a renewed battle against special interests, is the three-part framework he hopes to stress in the coming weeks.
What Obama refused to concede, however, is that much of the public demands a check on his economic policies. He claimed to understand that some might view his stimulus, auto-industry bailout and health care laws as a "potential overreach," but he defended the first two as essential measures to avert a worldwide meltdown and the third as a sensible, if misunderstood, achievement.
The President's calm demeanor masked the reality that consumes the chattering classes but also happens to be true: Obama must reorganize his operation just as his record, political judgment and long-term viability are being questioned. The most obvious model to follow--Bill Clinton in 1994--contains elements that have not been part of the Obama tool kit. He has rarely brought in outsiders as key advisers, acknowledged ideological overreach or accepted broad strategic changes to plans already in motion.
But Obama is still the President. With that comes an unmatched ability to drive the agenda of the nation and the world. He still has more specific plans than his Republican foes do.
It is fair to ask where Candidate Obama has gone--the 2008 hero who fired up the imaginations of Americans from coast to coast. At his press conference, Obama nostalgically recalled how much the country liked him as he campaigned before the Iowa caucuses. But that Obama had fewer determined opponents, a blanker canvas on which to paint his image and the freedom of movement that comes with a campaign. Tuesday showed that the coalitions that got him elected have been shattered. For Obama, building new alliances--and rebuilding old ones--has become his top priority.