After the downfall of the Democrats during the midterm elections, Obama faced a serious crisis. Domestically, the Republicans can now block all initiatives, with their majority in the House of Representatives.
Internationally, Obama is weaker as well. On his recent tour of Asia, he didn’t sign the free trade agreement with South Korea, because he must have feared the opposition in Congress. The blockade of the START Treaty represents not only a new beginning to the relationship with Russia, but also puts the relationship into question. The Republicans set back Obama’s diplomatic efforts to make arms control a core issue in international politics.
The slap by Congress has hit the man in the White House harder than many of his predecessors. Obama doesn’t belong to the “normal” type of politicians: He is a visionary, who longs for a nuclear weapon-free world, for example. He is a radical reformer, who wants to bring even the Old Guard to the dance, wherever it is. Such a world-mover needs to ride the momentum generated by the public, in order to succeed. Instead, Obama feels the weight of political leadership in Washington.
Those with good intentions advise Obama to follow the example of former President Bill Clinton, who, after a similar midterm disaster, threw the entire program overboard and took the wind from the sails of the Republicans. But Obama is not as crafty as Clinton in dealing with Congress; he rarely tends to sacrifice principles for opportunistic success.
Other observers suggest to Obama the model of Ronald Reagan: The Republican always positioned himself as the “Great Communicator” in party disputes and turned directly to the people. Though Obama is a brilliant speaker, so far he is not catching on with the average American.
He showed this in the ring of Health Care Reform, that he could first fight, and second, compromise. Obama must paint and prove himself as the “Dealmaker,” in the fight over tax law as well as with the START Treaty. A hard stand against the Iranians or a slow withdrawal from Afghanistan could make the treaty with the Russians a tasty morsel for triumphant Republicans.