Election Rout Hamstrings Obama

Fifteen hours have passed since he received the bad news of the heavy election defeat of his Democrats. However, Obama is making an effort to appear fresh and optimistic. On Wednesday afternoon he bounded up to the pulpit in the White House in a few quick steps, nodded a greeting and said the Republicans obviously had a good night. It was meant to sound mischievous but his body language betrayed tiredness. Obama hadn’t had a good night, and now he also had to explain how he would govern in the face of a Republican majority in both houses of the U.S. Congress.

The president said he had clearly heard the message from voters, who wanted both parties in the U.S. to work together and not block each other with a long-term battle. As president, it is his responsibility that the political establishment in Washington functions, Obama said. But the Republicans must also contribute something and be ready to compromise: “They [the voters] want us to get the job done. All of us in both parties …”

The first black president in the history of the U.S. is fighting for his legacy. It had already started on Wednesday evening, when the country’s voters helped the Republicans to a majority in the Senate and vented their resentment at Obama’s leadership.

The Republicans had stylized the election as a kind of referendum on Obama and thereby, apparently, hit a nerve with the electorate. According to polls, Americans are dissatisfied with the president’s leadership like never before since his election in fall 2008. One of the accusations is that although the U.S. economy has recovered since the global financial crisis, many parts of society haven’t felt it.

Obama was still trying on the night of the election to reach the new strongman of the Republicans on the telephone. But contacting Mitch McConnell, the designated leader of the Republican majority in the Senate, was unsuccessful. Obama, instead, telephoned other candidates from both parties in order to gain an idea of the mood of the nation. He has invited the leading powers from Congress to the White House on Friday. The only topic for debate: How can the total blockade in U.S. politics be averted?

The New Strong Man

According to reports, Obama has long given up on concerning the Republicans with important projects like the reform of immigration laws or initiatives for climate protection. But the president hopes nonetheless that the conservatives will at least demonstrate understanding in a few controversial cases. These include the reform of corporate tax, promotion of exports and some building measures to improve dilapidated infrastructure. He expressly stated these points during his press conference on Wednesday. It sounded a bit like the U.S. president was begging the victorious Republicans. Promotion of exports — it’s almost tailor-made for a compromise.

Then, however, Obama also had some threatening words. He spoke openly of making policies by executive order. It is reckoned that Obama will decree right of residence for millions of illegal immigrants in the U.S. — supposing Republicans don’t agree on a solution in consensus.

That is not expected, however, in relation to ideological topics like immigration. Obama’s new opponent Mitch McConnell said on Wednesday that executive orders that bypass Congress reminded him of a red flag which one holds in front of a bull. That doesn’t sound particularly like someone with whom he is ready to compromise, something which the senator from Kentucky isn’t known for. His only specific aim until this point was to drive the president out of the White House. That could change with the transfer of the important role of speaker of the house. And McConnell has actually already talked tentatively about cooperation with Obama.

The Blockade Could Continue

It could happen that Republicans and the president define the term differently. And it is unclear whether McConnell can persuade followers of the popular-right tea party in the Senate not to reject laws just because they come from the government of Barack Obama. The first requests to speak from influential senators in the pay of the tea party rather suggest that the policy of blockade is set to continue. A practical first test could soon come with the debate over a possible nuclear deal with Iran.

Obama has taken up the fight with Republican superiority. How it will pan out is unknown. In any case, according to experts, the Republicans shouldn’t enjoy their newly-won power too much if they don’t want to endanger their chances of taking over the White House in 2016. One thing we do know: The fight won’t last long. The election campaign for the presidency will begin in summer 2015 at the latest. And judging by experience, that is no time for compromise in the U.S.

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