President Obama and congressional democrats have led the country through two of the most difficult years in modern history and during those two years they've managed to pull the nation back from the brink of financial disaster, expanded health care coverage and reformed Wall Street. Making hard decisions is rarely rewarded in politics but the decisions made by the president and Congress has laid the foundation for a stronger America where the common good is put before the special interests.
Tonight the special interests - fueled by angry Tea Party activists and corporate money from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and secret contributions made possible by the Citizens United ruling - have won impressive victories.
Tomorrow the president will hold a press conference reacting to tonight's election results. He should offer the country a re-affirmation of the principled progressive agenda he ran on in 2008. Where possible he should peruse compromise with the newly elected GOP members of Congress but he should also forcefully articulate where he will draw lines in the sand. If President Obama, ala Bill Clinton 1994, largely embraces the GOP's agenda there would be little reason for progressives to rally to his side in 2012.
The president's mistakes - and there have been some - haven't been about the role of government or spending (frequent areas of criticism from the GOP) but rather a failure at times to explain to the American people that change doesn't come overnight. The Recovery Act, for example, saved America from falling off a cliff but it wasn't big enough to turn the economy around (a point economists like Paul Krugman argued from the beginning). President Obama may of gotten the biggest package possible considering the politics but Americans expected an actual economic "recovery" from the Recovery Act. Likewise, the battle over health care reform has left people confused. Too often during the health care debate the president left it unclear what kind of reform he wanted and the final package - while impressive - doesn't come into full effect until after the end of the president's first (perhaps only) term. Most Americans have been left opposing a plan that will reduce costs and expand coverage. Expectations have not matched the reality of how hard change is to bring about.
The White House has largely ignored advice from progressives who have said a more forceful agenda is needed. Could tonight's election outcome been have been different? Maybe.
Democrats rejected a repeat of the Clinton presidency when they choose Barack Obama in 2008. Tomorrow the American people need to be reminded of why they voted for him. We need to see him offering a hand of partnership to those the American people elected to Congress tonight but we also need to see a tough president who won't abandon his principles.