Obama lost his ability to push his agenda through Congress when he received what he himself called a “shellacking” in the November 2010 elections. That shellacking was primarily the result of massive policy overreach when he had a Democratic Congress in his pocket.
He spent 2009 and 2010 getting what he wanted: a trillion dollar stimulus. Auto-industry nationalization. And, of course, his health-care law. It was a wildly successful first 18 months — and it led directly to the bruising defeat he suffered as soon as the American people could render their judgment on those actions.
The independent voters who’d put him over the top in 2008 were horrified by the results. Exit polls showed a 24 percent swing among them, from 8 percentage points in favor of Obama and the Democrats in 2008 to 16 points against in 2010.
What may have been even more painful for Obama’s vanity was his discovery in 2011 that his rhetorical gifts had lost their oomph. He gave speech after speech on topics dear to his heart — and found, each time, that the talk was either ineffectual or actually convinced more people to oppose him.
His failure to move the needle on public opinion for his second round of stimulus last fall — remember “pass this bill now” and “we can’t wait,” after which the bill didn’t pass because evidently we could wait? — indicated he could no longer use the presidency’s “bully pulpit” to his advantage.
He doesn’t frighten Republicans in Congress, and he doesn’t seem able to convince the American people of much.
And yet, even in these circumstances, he has managed to get his way in a limited sense. Misguided Republicans didn’t get their way in their efforts against raising the debt ceiling in August, even after GOP toughness succeeded in preventing a tax hike. And the strange decision by the same Republicans to take a stand against extending the payroll-tax holiday in December met a similar fate last month.