To avoid gridlock, he will need to master a new political reality – and win a battle of public perception.
Weeks before the midterm elections, Barack Obama already knew his life as president would change forever. His Democrats were going to "take a shellacking," as he put it after the vote. They would likely lose their House majority – and boy, did they.
Obama 2.0, in the works for months, is now live, and the outlines are beginning to take shape. After pledging to find "common ground" with the newly empowered Republicans in Congress, the president is holding a White House summit with the leaders of both parties on Nov. 18.
He has signaled a willingness to compromise on extending Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy. He has distanced himself from the now-toxic cap-and-trade energy bill and laid out areas for possible consensus action under the rubric of "energy independence." He is looking ahead to the recommendations of the bipartisan deficit commission, due Dec. 1, as a launch point for addressing America's worsening fiscal imbalance.
In short, Mr. Obama is making all the right noises. But over the next two years, can he rise to the occasion and master the new reality or will the Republicans get the better of him, as they seek to unseat him in 2012?
"Barack Obama is clearly a good person," says Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. "The question is whether he can be an effective, efficient president. That jury is still out. It's the question, is he Carter or Clinton?"
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