WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama took the Democratic Party's midterm election drubbing in stride during a press conference on Wednesday, insisting that the message sent was not dissatisfaction or contentment with either political party but frustration over the state of the economy.
"It feels bad," he admitted, when asked about the GOP landslide.
The president took "direct responsibility" for the fact that "people across America aren't feeling" economic progress. And he pledged to push forward with a legislative agenda that would alleviate their concerns.
But the defining feature of his remarks was his re-commitment to the notions of post-partisan dialogue, collaboration and what he called "civility."
"No one party will be able to dictate where we go from here. We must find common ground in order to make progress on some uncommonly difficult challenges," Obama said. "I do believe there is hope for civility. I do believe there is hope for progress and that's because I believe in the resiliency of a nation that has bounced back from much worse than what it is going through right now."
It was the type of rhetorical touch that defined Obama's presidential campaign as well as his first two years in office. It's also a posture that has been resoundingly rejected by the Republican Party, which ran successfully on straight opposition to the president's agenda.
For those watching, the words seemed to ring a bit hollow. Even the president himself seemed skeptical about the practicality of his pledge.
"There is a reason we have two parties in this country and both Democrats and Republicans have certain beliefs and principles that they believe should not be compromised," Obama said. The country, he added, cannot "spend the next two years re-fighting the political battles of the last two," though even that basic sentiment was nuanced with an addendum: "I'm not so naïve to think everybody will put politics aside till then."
Politics, indeed, seems more animated now than at any time in the Obama presidency. Incoming House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) declared that compromise with the White House will only come if Obama changes course. And a week before the 2010 elections took place, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) stressed that his number-one priority was to ensure that the president only serve a single term.
When pressed on what issues, if any, he thought he could find middle ground with Republicans, Obama struggled for specifics. He talked about the bipartisan deficit commission, which he had set up and whose proposals are set to be unveiled later in the year. He mentioned re-investments in infrastructure (a typical bipartisan prescription). "We should be able to agree now that it makes no sense for China to have better rail systems then us," he said.
Mainly, however, Obama's suggestions of where to find political civility were small-bore stuff. He noted various aspects of health care reform law, including some of the more administrative features, that could use tinkering, and then reiterated a piece of bipartisan agreement that he wants to continue.
"Eric Cantor said today he wants to see a moratorium on earmarks continue," said the president. "That's something we can work on together."
"I think I have been willing to compromise in the past and I will be willing to compromise going forward," he summarized, vaguely.