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As the seismic reverberations in the aftermath of last night’s historic election continue to ripple through 1600 Pennsylvania, the man occupying the Oval Office has been presented both with a daunting challenge and a great opportunity to lead. The challenge, of course, is that President Obama was elected as a post-partisan centrist who was going to change the manner in which government operated in Washington, D.C. Unfortunately, the president delegated much of the heavy lifting of the stimulus package, cap and trade legislation and of course, Obamacare, to the Democratic leadership in the Congress.
Perhaps more than any other decision he made in his first two years, Obama’s choice to allow Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Reid to shape his main legislative priorities proved tragic; legislators left to their own devices are prone to load up large bills with their favorite pork and spending projects. In doing so, partisan squabbling and the dramatic expansion of government left many constituents across the country to conclude that politicians in Washington, D.C. remained wedded to business as usual and unresponsive to their concerns.
As most Americans worried about their jobs and the state of the economy, Congress plowed away on controversial legislation that did little to improve their daily lives. As a result, Democrats lost their majority in the House of Representatives and several members of the United States Senate due to an over-reach and misreading of the electorate. Economic stimulus devolved into economic pork. A year long push on health care further left many across the country convinced the Democratic majority was tone-deaf an oddly out of touch.
And yet, President Obama is presented with a unique opportunity to refocus his administration and position himself for a strong shot at reelection if he properly interprets the message the American people sent him last night. For one, with the departure of Nancy Pelosi from the Speaker’s chair and a marginalized Senate Majority Leader, Obama can unshackle himself from Democratic leaders and negotiate directly with the House majority and bipartisan coalitions to achieve legislative successes in areas such as trade, energy and most importantly, the economy.
After pause for reflection, will Obama pivot like President Clinton did in 1995 when faced with loss of the House of Representatives and reach across the aisle to meet Republicans halfway and compromise? Or, will the president double down on his progressive agenda in the belief that if only he could communicate more clearly with people they would understand the brilliance of his ideas? Actions speak louder than words, Mr. President. We’re waiting to see what you’ll do next.
Ron Christie is Founder and CEO of Christie Strategies LLC, a full-service communications and issues management firm in Washington, D.C. A former special assistant to President George W. Bush, Christie is the author of the just published book, Acting White: The Curious History of a Racial Slur (St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne Books).