When it comes to the economy, we are all in the same boat and have only one president at a time.
Every mid-term election is a mandate on the person in the Oval Office; a national report card. At the center of this election stood President Barack Obama, who two short years ago was viewed by millions as a miracle worker, the proverbial agent of change.
The heady days of November 2008 are now a distant memory. In the past two years, he has been battered by relentless economic problems, cultural wars played out in the media, and a campaign to undermine his authority by those who have circulated the lie of his “foreign birth.” Meanwhile the wars grind on and the terrorist threats continue. He has weathered these challenges well, grayer at the temples, yes, but still the image of youthfulness, a latter-day JFK of sorts.
Whether or not his personality was an issue in the election is a tough call. Polls reveal most people find him very likable. At issue was his management of the Great Recession. Like FDR in 1936, his supporters argue he needs more time to solve our problems. At some level, even those who voted for the GOP understand the recovery will take time — lots of time, and patience. They also know that it was President George W. Bush who started to prime the pump in September 2008 to arrest an economy free fall and that a large portion of our national debt is rooted in the Bush years, especially the wars. But it is the person in office who inherits the problems of his predecessor and is expected to solve them.
Obama is a consummate politician. He is no fool and will change course. He is still the president and will draw from the well of those who find him likable, smart and able. Goodwill can go a very long way. He got where he is because he has exceptional navigational skills. Rest assured, long before the votes were counted, he had already moved ahead to plan for the coming two years. For a man like Obama, what happened on Election Day is yesterday.
In the next two years we may see Obama transform himself into more of a leader and less of a visionary. During the recent election, he admitted that he is not a miracle worker. It was a prelude of things to come. Most economists agree that we will not have a full recovery until 2012 or even later. He will build on this. Fiscal, not social, issues will mark his next two years.
In other words, he will re-invent himself as presidents often do. Rather than stressing our diversity, he may stress what binds us together. When it comes to the economy, we are all in the same boat and have only one president at a time. Like him or not, he is a highly intelligent politician who does not want to be a one-termer.
In terms of his demeanor, JFK is his role model. As a leader in times of crisis, FDR’s presidency is his guide. Do not be surprised if he creates a bi-partisan FDR-like “Brain Trust,” drawing upon leaders in the GOP as well as people from the top echelon of business, finance and the academic world. His goal: the revival of the nation. Together, they may make the kinds of hard decisions we have seen recently in the U.K., where social programs have been trimmed, and in France, where the retirement age was raised to 62.
The days of spending our way out of the Great Recession and the funding of all entitlements are about to end. These are the lessons of Nov. 2, 2010. The Democrats may have lost the House, but not the presidency. The GOP and the tea party will realize this once the dust settles.
Sander A. Diamond is a professor of history at Keuka College in Keuka Park, N.Y.