OK, I can’t say that press conference was brimming with humility, but it’s perhaps as much as we could expect from this president. He said the things you would expect about people wanting even more rapid progress, especially on the economy. He didn’t admit any real mistakes, except being misunderstood. His explanation that emergency circumstances required him to act like a big-spending liberal on the stimulus and the auto bailouts, when he’s not really one, didn’t make sense — how does it explain health-care reform? And it’s funny how now, all of a sudden, the American people want compromise when he no longer has the majorities to push his agenda. Yet he did refer to the election, if somewhat obliquely, as “humbling” at the beginning and, more directly, as a “shellacking” at the end.
I think there will inevitably be an element of triangulation to Obama, post-election — because he has no choice. Massive new deficit spending, the nationalization of industries, and vast regulatory schemes are now off the table. There were three elements to Clinton’s reaction to the GOP Congress — playing defense by demagoguing the Republican program, embracing small-ball on popular micro-initiatives, and capitulating on something big, namely welfare reform. It’s easy to see Obama doing a version of the first two, but how about the third? And what would it be? Perhaps playing against type and signing Republican appropriations bills that cut spending? Perhaps cutting a deal on medical-malpractice reform? He’d better find something or he’s more likely to have to demonstrate humility on a much bigger stage in November 2012.