Rather than plunge into the debate over whether Obama should “move to the center” or adopt tactics of high-intensity conflict with congressional Republicans let me suggest another tack. A day contains 24 hours. That’s true for you, for me, for John Boehner, and for Barack Obama. But Obama has more job responsibilities than Boehner, and both of them have more responsibilities than I do. So it’s important for the President to think about how he wants to spend his time.
For the past 20 months, Obama has spent a lot of time acting as his party’s leader in legislative negotiations, especially in the United States Senate. The correct way to respond to the midterms is, I think, to stop doing this. Let Harry Reid do it. As Reid can tell you both from his time as a Minority Leader and his time as a Majority Leader, it’s very hard to pass bills through the US Senate. Let this be John Boehner’s problem.
Meanwhile, having cleared his schedule of meetings with Phil Schirilo there’s time for more meetings with folks from the Counsel’s office about judicial vacancies. There should be a nominee for each vacancy! That’ll probably set up a problem of getting the judges confirmed, but the first step is coming up with the names. And Obama will have more time to spend on foreign policy. How are we going to extricate ourselves from Afghanistan? How can we continue the dialogue with China over trade and currency issues? How can we strengthen ties with India, Brazil, Indonesia and other large developing democracies? How can he work with Dilma Roussef to check the spread of authoritarian populism in the region?
Given that congress is almost certainly not going to pass any useful bills, what unilateral actions can the administration take to promote economic recovery? What kind of jaw-boning of FOMC members is likely to be useful?
The point is, it’s a great big country located in the middle of a great big world. There’s more to life than the United States Congress and deep engagement with the legislative process is not a politically rewarding undertaking. So let it go. Staff up the White House with people interested in running the executive branch and focus on doing a good job. Let the Senators fight with each other on their own.
As you can see here, this is what John Boehner most fears—that the President will simply move on to other things and leave him with the sticky job of dealing with the legislative morass.