A young Democrat is elected president. He carries an unspectacular résumé, but loads of charisma. During the first two years of his presidency, he fails to get an ambitious health care bill through Congress. He faces the prospect of major losses in the congressional elections at the middle of his term. Sounds like a recipe for a failed one-term presidency, right?
Wrong. Bill Clinton was easily reelected, and, while his second term cannot be called trouble-free, and even now it's too early to make a final judgment on his time in office, he's not generally categorized as a failed president.
In recent days, commentators have been speculating as to whether President Obama will recover as well as Clinton did, as Obama experiences circumstances similar to those Clinton faced in 1993-4.
Is the Democrats' loss of the Massachusetts Senate seat a blessing in disguise? That obvious question led George Will to quote Winston Churchill. When Churchill suffered a landslide election defeat just as his country and its allies were on the brink of victory in World War II, he commented that the blessing that his electoral defeat supposedly constituted was very well disguised. Will goes on to discuss the ways in which Obama will now be forced to moderate his agenda. The ability to put a more middle-of-the-road record before the voters in 2012 may well be a blessing to the president.
Eamon Javers, writing in Politico, revives a favorite buzzword from the Clinton White House: triangulation. That concept is attributed to political consultant Dick Morris, who successfully advised Clinton to adopt the triangulation strategy, before Morris's role was ended due to peccadilloes on his part that were similar to those of the president for whom he worked.
Clinton moderated his fiscal policy, subsequent to the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress. He also signed some bills favored by Republicans, such as welfare reform and, also, my personal favorite, the one that saves good, traditional, normal, red-blooded, god-fearing heterosexual marriage from those of us who advocate the evil homosexual agenda.
It would be fine by me if Obama drastically scales back his big-government ambitions, as long as he does not, as Clinton did, forget his promises to LGBT people.
One commentator compares Obama not to Clinton, but to Ronald Reagan. Mark Halperin has an article in Time that cites lessons Obama can learn from Reagan. Reagan successfully built bipartisan coalitions in Congress, when the House was controlled by Democrats and, during his last two years, when Democrats also had a majority in the Senate.
I'm not sure what Halperin in referring to when he says "Reagan struggled to find his footing at the start of his first term". My recollection is that Reagan quickly secured congressional approval of two of his top priorities, tax cuts and the defense buildup. Clinton and Obama struggled to find their footing, but Reagan hit the ground running.