Barack Obama is stuck in a political ditch, and it’s his own fault. At his press conference today, the president admitted he’d taken a “shellacking” at the polls on November 2. But he refused to say that his policies may have contributed to his party’s historic losses in the House and above-average losses in the Senate. Instead, Obama said the problem was that he hasn’t done enough to foster the recovery. Sorry, Mr. President, you’ve done too much already. The problem is that the electorate thinks your solutions are the wrong ones.
When it comes to compromise with the Republicans, Obama gave little ground. True, he left the door open for a full extension of current tax rates. He did say the 1099 provision in the health care bill may be too burdensome to implement. He did more or less admit that cap and trade is dead. He even suggested the EPA ought not to regulate carbon admissions without congressional consent.
Overall, however, my impression was that Obama is unbowed. Listen to him, and you get the impression that he simply doesn’t believe Republicans have serious prescriptions for the country’s problems. You can be a New York Times columnist and hold that view, but not the president of a divided government. During the press conference, Obama kept trotting out that line from the health care debate, the one where he says that as soon as Republicans have ideas similar to his, he’ll be happy to work with them. He kept referring to an energy bill and electric cars, as though those were the most pressing issues of the day. Call me cynical, but I don’t think Rand Paul is going to vote for more funding for electric cars. Finally, on spending, Obama said there are places where government can trim, but we mustn’t scrimp on important “investments.” This is a total misreading of the election. The electorate doesn’t want any more investments.
The president’s inability to move towards the electorate suggests that all the predictions of gridlock over the next two years could be right. Until Obama understands that the public voted Republican for sound reasons based on policy, and that Republicans have intellectually legitimate reasons for thinking and acting the way they do, he’ll be stuck in the ditch. And he might not be able to escape by 2012.