Bill Clinton held up as an example for president to follow
Published 04/11/2010 | 05:00
US President Barack Obama looked utterly deflated at his East Room press conference, describing the mid-term electoral rout of fellow Democrats as "humbling".
But the loss could benefit Mr Obama in the long run and may be the best thing that has happened to his presidency, as he looks to rebuild and tackle 2012.
Bill Clinton has been heralded as an example for Mr Obama to follow. After the Republicans swept the board in the 1994 mid-terms, the former president worked with the other side to pass major welfare reform and balance the budget. Mr Clinton won re-election by a landslide in 1996.
William Galston, a former official in the Clinton White House, said that if Mr Obama wanted to fulfil his goal of becoming a "transformational" president, he should tackle a national debt that was heading for calamitous levels.
"At some point he might take a deep breath and say that 'it's not my choice it's my destiny'. Stranger things have happened," he said.
But Mr Clinton was adept at the art of compromise and deal-making. Critics have argued that for all Mr Obama's rhetoric about unifying America, he has shown little appetite for either.
"Bill Clinton was an adroit political operator, but I don't think President Obama has shown the same abilities," said Karl Rove, formerly George W Bush's senior adviser. "The mindset is wrong."
Stan Greenberg, the dean of Democratic pollsters, said the results showed that Mr Obama "had to govern in a different way". "He has got to reach out and genuinely try to make progress. I think he wants to, he is not an ideologue," he said.
A reshuffle of his team is also on the cards. Even before the defeat, there was growing consensus among Democrats that some of his closest advisers should move on.
The president said it was now important for Democrats and Republicans to sit together and seek common ground on creating jobs and the economy.
"I'm not suggesting this will be easy," he said at yesterday's press conference. "I won't pretend that we'll be able to bridge every difference or solve every disagreement.
"What is absolutely true is that without any Republican support on anything it's going to be hard to get things done."
Mr Obama said he would listen to suggestions on reform.
"If the Republicans have ideas for how to improve our health care system, if they want to suggest modifications that would deliver faster and more effective reform to a health care system that has been wildly expensive, I'm happy to consider some of those ideas," he said.
Bipartisanship may work well politically for the president, if in 2012 voters see him as the one who made the effort to compromise only to be rebuffed by a Republican pulled to the Right by the new confrontational Tea Party contingent in Congress. He could also be helped considerably if Republican party members select Sarah Palin, a divisive figure, as their presidential nominee.
The Tea Party has been described as the "elephant in the room" by one commentator. Key Tea Party organisers are already said to be looking ahead to 2012 and plotting primary challenges against more moderate Republicans who do not fit in the movement's agenda.
But as Mr Obama said repeatedly yesterday, the paramount concern of Americans was the economy. Fix that, or at least convince voters he is leading them in the right direction, and he would probably follow Mr Clinton as a two-term Democratic president. (© Daily Telegraph, London)