The midterm election has been touted as a major win for Republicans and, more importantly, a sign of America's disappointment with President Obama's record in his first two years as president. Rather than considering this a defeat, based on his comment that the election results were a "shellacking" for him and his party, Obama must take a lesson from history and change how he deals with the opposition, not change course completely.
This "shellacking" appears to be more about Obama's inability to "change" everything for the better, not a sign that Americans as a whole dislike Obama's direction.
Clinton lost but won
In 1994, the Democrats lost both Houses to Republicans, leaving Democrats licking their wounds. However, if the 1994 midterm election was a response to voter disapproval of the Democratic Party, why then did President Clinton win re-election in 1996?
The reason: Clinton understood that it's all about voter perception. Clinton managed to convince American voters it was Republican stonewalling rather than his own ineptitude or politicking. By simply convincingly transitioning the burden of blame onto his opposition in the House and Senate, Clinton not only maintained the White House, but also created a legacy few presidents muster.
Obama must go from all-compromising to all-compelling
President Obama has built his following on the ability to see all sides and a willingness to compromise with all sides. In order to stave off a self-fulfilling prophecy of voter dissatisfaction with him and his party, Obama must instead be willing to work hard and visibly toward the goals his administration has.
Former President Clinton did not gain re-election in 1996 because voters flip-flopped finding dissatisfaction with Republicans. Had that been the case, the Republicans would also have control of both Houses again. No, the reason Clinton was re-elected was his ability to play hardball and his rhetorical capabilities.
Health care reform, the wars and DADT
"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal is a great example of Obama's unwillingness to act decisively and instead hoping for consensus and confusing an easily confused electorate as to where he stands on DADT. By choosing to maintain a firm position and push hard, Obama may stave off a lame-duck presidency.
Health care reform is complex enough. Americans fear their rights are being chiseled away by this new overhaul of the current health care system. What hurt President Clinton's push for health care reform was the complexity. If President Obama spends his lame-duck time explaining the consequences of the reform, voters are likely to perceive him as producing something from nothing.
One of the biggest reasons for Obama's win in 2008, sans the economy, was America's dissatisfaction with time, money and lives still being exhausted in the Middle East. Obama should take this potentially lame-duck situation and it more clear voters where the two U.S. wars are and where they are going.
By making demands of the now split legislature, and by pushing hard for his own agenda rather than playing the world's most powerful mediator between two sides, Obama may be able to pull himself from the seeming hole within which he current resides.