Obama Must Accept Responsibility in Defeat to Move Forward

Can anything get done now? Not unless Obama understands how his omissions and strategies contributed to this and changes. Unhappily, I see no evidence of that so far. But we shall see.

The manipulation of the public's anger was uncontested by Obama. He played the inside game and left the field of public opinion to the Republicans and the crazies. Their narrative had no competition. He never even spoke to the public once from the Oval Office during his first 17 months in office. Some of you will recall my lamenting that, and criticizing it, last summer.

People want economic growth and jobs and they've bought the nonsense that cutting taxes on the wealthy and reducing the deficit by cutting spending will do it. They've bought it in part because Obama never explained why it's nonsense, and why Keynesian spending is crucial and why the Republican proposals will, if they prevail, make everything worse. He had the pulpit and the talent to do it, but not the temperament. It was a disastrous error, and I don't see that he understands it even now.

We'll never know how Tuesday's results might have been modified had he done what Roosevelt and Reagan did by speaking directly to the people and confronting, educationally, what the Republicans and Tea Party types were saying.

Second, I don't think he fully comprehended what was needed substantively. The stimulus was way too limited from the start, assigned a lower priority than health care and it was assumed that by now unemployment and foreclosures would have significantly moderated. Paul Krugman argued differently from the start; so did Joseph Stiglitz; so did Robert Reich. But Obama chose to listen to Larry Summers and Tim Geithner.

People know the stimulus didn't work, in the sense that their own lives remain threatened and fragile, if not damaged. But they don't know why because no one on our side has effectively told them. Most think the idea of stimulus was wrong, when in fact it didn't work because it was insufficient. They think that we need less stimulus when we need more. They think Obama's mistake was to enact economic stimulus programs when it was that the ones he did enact were too timid and limited. Obama couldn't have entirely remedied that perception but his failure to address it assured its uncontested reification in voters' minds.

Finally, he never recognized who he was dealing with when he persisted in his delusional commitment to a strategy of bipartisan dialogue. Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate leader, has said that their primary strategy is to make Obama a one-term president. And the Tea Party types are ideological fundamentalists who won't compromise and who now have greater influence in the Republican Party. You can't have political dialogue with such people. You have to take them on and discredit them on the battlefield of public opinion. Instead, he abandoned that battlefield to his adversaries, and even now, in his initial comments, promised to work with them when they have no intention of working with him.

It mystifies me how someone who seemed so tuned in to the public pulse during the campaign became so strategically tone-deaf after he was elected. I think he may have badly overestimated the meaning of the 2008 election, particularly with respect to swing independents, who were voting against Bush, more than for Obama, just as yesterday they voted against the economic situation, without understanding its sources or what would remedy it.

When you have a volatile but decisive demographic group like that, you MUST cultivate it, and he didn't. Nor did he pay much attention to youth. The first rule of politics is to cultivate your base and keep what you have. He didn't.

No one can do much with factors outside their control. But the one thing within his control -- his own strategies -- he blundered.

Nothing to be done now; what's past is past. But I don't know whether he understands his mistakes sufficiently to alter his course and his strategic approach. I am afraid to contemplate where this might lead.