What can Obama accomplish? Try the truth
All right, you're President Obama.
You've just been re-elected by a fairly impressive margin, the first president in half a century to get more than 50 percent of the vote in both your election and your re-election.
Your party has expanded its Senate majority, and your candidates for the House of Representatives received a million more votes nationwide than their opponents.
The country is badly divided, but you have the majority.
So what do you do?
It's a valid question, but probably one without a satisfactory answer. There was no significant work done on filibuster reform in the Senate, leaving the Democrats still five votes short of the threshold of 60 required to get anything done.
In the House, gerrymandering of districts done after the 2010 census enabled the Republicans to hold their majority, and Speaker John Boehner says he won't bring anything to the floor for a vote unless a majority of his own party supports it.
Depending on how obstreperous they want to be, the GOP majority in the House can pretty well prevent Obama from governing in the standard way. He can use executive orders and he can use recess appointments, but if they want to do nothing but obstruct, he cannot achieve anything lasting that cannot be undone by the next president.
Obama is left with one longshot strategy if he wants lasting achievements for his second term. He needs to push back against Republican obstructionism as much as possible this year and next, with the goal of showing voters exactly what is going on in Washington and whose fault it is.
Democrats have little chance of adding to their effective 55-45 Senate majority, and they may actually have to struggle to maintain what they have. But if they can educate voters to what the government is supposed to do, and beat back the Tea Party gains of 2010, it's possible they could gain the 18-20 seats needed to gain control of the House.
There's one problem with that. Historically, a party in control of the White House for two terms usually loses seats in Congress in the midterm elections of its second term.
That's how the Democrats won the House in 2006 after 12 years of GOP control.
One recent exception was 1998, six years into the Clinton administration. One possible anomaly there was voter anger toward the Newt Gingrich-run House of Representatives.
If there is one thing Obama can accomplish the next two years, it may be pressuring the Senate to fulfill its advise-and-consent function on presidential nominees. Allowing a minority to prevent up-down votes on nominees is just wrong.
Aside from that, he needs to make Republicans own every unpopular stand they take. We may or may not be witnessing a generational shift in politics, but there's certainly nothing wrong with Democrats making sure voters aren't fooled by platitudes.
The truth may not set anyone free, but it's a start.
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