Obama: Can he learn from his mistakes?

After a loss of more than 60 House seats, will President Obama modify his policies?

It’s “time for Obama to adjust,” said USA Today in an editorial. After what he memorably termed his “shellacking” in the midterm elections last week, President Obama said he blamed himself for not selling his policies to the public more effectively, but dismissed the idea that any kind of “midcourse correction” is now in order. This is a mistake. If Obama wants to avoid “a second coating of shellac” in 2012, he needs to do what Bill Clinton did after his own disastrous midterms in 1994: shelve the ambitious liberal agenda, reach out to Republicans, and steer back toward the political center. I’m not sure Obama has it in him, said Rich Lowry in National Review Online. A change of course would “require the humility first to realize how fundamentally he misread the American people,” but Obama suffers from a “debilitating” case of hubris, and still considers himself a figure of “world historical importance.” Humility is not part of his skill set.

The Democrats’ defeat was not really Obama’s fault, said Hendrik Hertzberg in The New Yorker. Voters are still seething over the economic meltdown that began under the previous administration, and thanks to relentless propaganda from the conservative attack-machine, they’re convinced he raised their taxes. In fact, he cut taxes for 95 percent of U.S. households. If he’s not to be defined by his enemies, said Joe Klein in Time, Obama needs to become “a much better working politician than he has been.” From now on, he will have “to outwit and outmaneuver the Republicans,” making strategic concessions when necessary, and calling them out on real budget cuts and deficit reduction. Despite the beating his party took, Obama “remains widely respected, if not quite loved,” and the political pendulum may soon swing back in his direction.

Being a “better communicator” isn’t the solution, said Kathleen Parker in The Washington Post. What Obama needs is “to be a better listener.” From the outset, Americans told Obama that his policies—from the stimulus package to the health-care bill—“were too overreaching and, ultimately, threatening to individual freedom.” Obama chose not to hear that message, and lost more than 60 House seats as a result. The midterms were “a nationwide recoil against Barack Obama’s idea of unlimited government,” said George Will, also in the Post, but he may perversely take it as a sign that he’s on the right track. Progressives like Obama, whose worldview is formed in the smug cocoon of academia, believe that if the ignorant masses aren’t outraged by what you’re doing to remake society, then “what is being done is not properly ambitious.”

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It’s the economy, stupid, said Mike Littwin in The Denver Post. With Americans still worried about losing their homes and their jobs, they would have delivered a similar shellacking to any president, and any party. This is an ugly era in American history, and it’s “the wrong time to be in charge.” For Obama and the Democrats, that’s the silver lining of last week’s cloud, said Frank Rich in The New York Times. Now that the GOP has a share of power, Obama should “call the Republicans’ bluff” and invite them to get specific about how they’d shrink the deficit and put Americans back to work. If they can’t or won’t step up to that challenge, Obama will be seen as having no choice but to provide a “coherent alternative of his own.”

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