If the president’s party loses big on Tuesday, as appears likely, much of the loss will be due to 3 C’s—competence, coherence and credibility. Competence: The administration has shown little talent for or focused interest in running the federal government well, and has managed the executive agencies very poorly. Coherence: The administration has been unable to explain persuasively the reasoning behind its current priorities (global warming? really?) or its decisions in areas from foreign policy to Ebola in a way that has allowed the public to follow their thinking. Credibility: If you want your doctor you can keep your doctor, red lines, it’s highly unlikely Ebola will come here, there’s not a smidgen of corruption in the IRS, etc. It’s a terrible thing when a president loses his credibility.
Absolute failure in any one of the 3 C’s will bring trouble, and when you fail in all three you get very big, even historic trouble.
All this explains nostalgia for a certain former president. You can get quite a conversation going in any room in Manhattan now by comparing Barack Obama to Jimmy Carter, with everyone defending Carter.
It will mean a great deal how the president handles all this.
Two weeks ago we lauded Bill Clinton’s handling of his 1994 midterm drubbing. In a news conference the next day he accepted responsibility and suggested the political meaning of the election was that the public was more conservative than he was. That took some guts and humility. Cleverness, too. By convincing those on his left that they had to face reality, he opened the door for his historic compromises with the Contract Congress. This in turn gave Clinton room to breathe and gather his forces.
I wasn’t able to quote a lot of George W. Bush’s press conference the evening after the second term midterm thumpin’ in which his party lost 30 House seats, six Senate seats, and control of both chambers.
But in his news conference you hear the sound of an old graciousness that has eluded President Obama, who has long said there’s little he can do with obstructionists in Congress who are stuck on hating him.
For those who think Mr. Obama has faced unusual levels of rhetoric, consider this question from a reporter to Mr. Bush:
“Thank you, Mr. President. With all due respect, Nancy Pelosi has called you incompetent, a liar, the emperor with no clothes and, as recently as yesterday, dangerous. How will you work with someone who has such little respect for your leadership and who is third in line to the presidency?”
This is how Mr. Bush replied. “I’ve been around politics a long time. I understand when campaigns end and I know when governing begins. And I’m going to work with people of both parties. You know, look, people say unfortunate things at times. But if you hold grudges in this line of work, you’re never going to get anything done. And my intention is to get some things done, and soon—we’re start visiting with her Friday with the idea of coming together.”
That is the sound of political graciousness. It would be nice to hear it from Mr. Obama on Wednesday.
As for the Republicans, if they have as good a Tuesday night as they increasingly expect, it would be nice if they were gracious and big-minded, and a real relief if they didn’t look smug and get that curled smile that says “We got it back, baby, and Harry Reid will soon be out of that pretty office.” Wouldn’t it be nice if they were happy but modest, and made it clear they’re aware of the fix we’re in? “It is not about me and it’s not, my hardworking friends, about you. It’s about this thing we were given called America. It needs our help. So we are happy tonight, but it’s work in the morning, and the kind of work that is the most important, saving our country.”
Or, more pointedly: “I know what this is. It’s the base giving the party one last chance. They are telling us we better do something. That’s the meaning I take. and I mean to come through.”