America's resurgent Republicans
President Obama's plain and simple sentence says it all. It feels bad, said he at his news conference on Wednesday about the results of the mid-term elections. And well he might, for the outcome of the polls has clearly placed his policies in jeopardy. It may well be that the results will have an impact on his prospects for re-election in 2012, though it might be argued that at this point in their presidencies, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton went through a similar experience in mid-term defeat. The difficulty for Mr. Obama, though, is that he came to office two years ago promising change in America. His slogan of "yes we can" resonated all across the country, to a point where he was able to beat more well-known rivals for the Democratic nomination before going on to beat the Republican John McCain at the election. Today, it is his enemies who are truly crowing. The president has himself acknowledged the difficulties he will clearly have with a Congress whose incoming speaker has publicly asked him to change course.
There are now clear threats to the policies the Obama administration has been pursuing since taking office in January 2009. The president has especially taken pride in his health care bill, a measure that engaged his full attention and that was creditable given that his predecessors were unable to produce anything similar. The triumphant Republicans have now openly told him they will have nothing to do with the health care bill, an attitude which has had the president suggesting that he is willing to talk and work things around to a solution. On climate change, an issue on which the Republicans under George W. Bush had a bad record, it is quite possible that the new Congress will push for changes. Mr. Obama could also see his foreign policy initiatives, particularly over Iraq and Afghanistan, come up against new challenges, this time on his home turf. On the economy, an area in which the president became engaged even before his inauguration as a global recession went underway, matters have not improved much. The scale of recovery and the figures for employment have not quite made Americans happy. In other words, where a generation of jobs is concerned, President Obama has found his hands tied. The good news, for now, is that the president has acknowledged all these problems and has indeed extended a hand of cooperation to the Republicans, a gesture they ought to reciprocate. They should also note that for all their tough post-election talk, the president has the power of veto over any significant changes they may have in mind.
The next two years, in light of the drubbing the president and his party have just gone through at the elections, will prove to be a formidable challenge for the administration. Back in 1994, President Clinton, hamstrung by a resurgent Republican opposition, managed to work his way around the problem by moving to the centre and so engaging Newt Gingrich in the business of making government work. Mr. Obama will need to bring similar skills into play. He is as cerebral as Clinton. But whether he is as capable as the former president in building bridges to the opposition is something he needs to demonstrate in these two remaining years of his presidential term. Mr. Obama can yet show Americans that he can govern and that, despite being reduced to a lame duck status, can yet go on to win a second term. The knives are already out for him. If he cannot duck them, he is done for.