While proud of his record, Obama has already begun thinking about what went wrong — and what he needs to do to change course for the next two years. He has spent what one aide called “a lot of time talking about Obama 2.0” with his new interim chief of staff, Pete Rouse, and his deputy chief of staff, Jim Messina. During our hour together, Obama told me he had no regrets about the broad direction of his presidency. But he did identify what he called “tactical lessons.” He let himself look too much like “the same old tax-and-spend liberal Democrat.” He realized too late that “there’s no such thing as shovel-ready projects” when it comes to public works. Perhaps he should not have proposed tax breaks as part of his stimulus and instead “let the Republicans insist on the tax cuts” so it could be seen as a bipartisan compromise.
On the campaign trail lately, Obama has been confronted by disillusionment — the woman who was “exhausted” defending him, the mother whose son campaigned for him but was now looking for work. Even Shepard Fairey, the artist who made the iconic multihued “Hope” poster, says he’s losing hope.
It would be bad form for the president to anticipate an election result before it happens, but clearly Obama hopes that just as Clinton recovered from his party’s midterm shellacking in 1994 to win re-election two years later, so can he. There was something odd in hearing Obama invoke Clinton. Two years ago, Obama scorned the 42nd president, deriding the small-ball politics and triangulation maneuvers and comparing him unfavorably with Ronald Reagan. Running against Clinton’s wife, Obama was the anti-Clinton. Now he hopes, in a way, to be the second coming of Bill Clinton. Because, in the end, it’s better than being Jimmy Carter.