Obama's new job: reinvention
To avoid gridlock, he will need to master a new political reality – and win a battle of public perception.
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At this point, Obama may seem more like a Carter than a Clinton. It's hard to see him hanging out after hours with a Speaker John Boehner the way President Reagan would invite Democratic House Speaker Tip O'Neill, a fellow Irishman, over for drinks every so often, or secretly consulting with a Republican strategist the way Mr. Clinton did with Dick Morris to learn the art of "triangulation."Skip to next paragraph
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Some analysts are not convinced that Obama can reinvent himself after his electoral comeuppance.
Limits to reinvention
"I think voters get a pretty strong set of feelings about a president by this time, and there are limits to how much you can reshape how the public sees you," says Julian Zelizer, a Princeton historian and author of a new book on Carter. "Obama's better opportunity is to focus his fire on the Republicans and present them as the party of extremism that can't govern and has no solutions."
So far, the Republicans' two leaders on Capitol Hill seem to be playing good cop, bad cop. The day after the election, Congressman Boehner echoed Obama as he spoke of working with the president on "the American people's priorities: creating jobs and cutting spending." The next day, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky doubled down on his insistence that the GOP's top political priority should be to deny Obama a second term.
"The fact is, if our primary legislative goals are to repeal and replace the health spending bill; to end the bailouts; cut spending; and shrink the size and scope of government, the only way to do all these things is to put someone in the White House who won't veto any of these things," Senator McConnell said Nov. 4 in an address at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.
To be sure, the White House itself has put out the message that the next two years will be marked by a combination of cooperation and conflict. Both work to Obama's advantage. The public wants to see the parties working together, but if liberal Democrats see Obama veering too far to the right, he could alienate his base and invite a primary challenge from the left. Already, the name of former Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean has been floated as a possible contender (and immediately shot down by aides), as has the name of Sen. Russ Feingold (D) of Wisconsin, who lost reelection. A spokesman said Senator Feingold has "no interest" in running.