Let’s assume that the Republicans take the House and make large gains in the Senate, that many Obama advisers depart, and there is a great hue and cry among Democrats. Was Obama too liberal, or not tough enough? Did Obama overinterpret his mandate? Is his presidency “over”?
It is not unlike the debate that went on following the Democrats’ defeat in 1994, when Bill Clinton memorably asserted, “The president is still relevant here.” It turned out he was relevant, in part, because he desperately wanted a second term and, more important, had the intellectual and personal flexibility to reconfigure his agenda.
We will know soon enough whether Obama intends to dig in or bend to reality. Will he populate the new team with seasoned advisers outside his own circle and immune from the cult of The One? If he does, we’ll know he’s serious about rescuing his presidency and his prospects for 2012. Will he go along with a full extension of the Bush tax cuts? If he does, we’ll know he’s thrown in the towel on the class-warfare gambit and is seriously considering how to aid, not impede, employers. Will he tone down or drop altogether his Muslim outreach and begin to articulate the nature and motives of our enemy? If he does, we’ll know he has recognized that his approach has failed to deliver results overseas and that domestically it has alienated if not infuriated average Americans. Will he clean house in the Justice Department? If he does, we’ll know he recognizes the cloud of corruption and politicization that plays into the narrative that the Chicago pols have simply transplanted their machine inside the Beltway. Will he drop the plan to close Guantanamo and give KSM a public trial? If he does, we’ll know he’s put away the childish obsession with being “not Bush” and recognized the substantive and political drawbacks to a national security policy designed to please the ACLU. And finally, will he lift the Afghanistan war troop-withdrawal deadline? If he does, we’ll know he’s accepted the responsibility and demands of being commander in chief and listened to the generals and not the political hacks.
There’s a chance he might do a couple of these. All or most? If he does, we’ll be shocked.