After four years of trying to make friends with Republicans, Obama squeaked by, leaving the question: “Did he learn his lesson, and will he now find some backbone?” If Obama chooses to lead and the Senate chooses to vote by majority rather than the crippling 60-vote super-majority, perhaps the Democrats will be able to offer a serious program to restore the country. The terms of such a program would center around putting financial criminals in jail; forcing banks to extend loans to the average American; minimizing Big Pharma control over the health care system; pursuing electoral fraud designed to prevent the poor from voting; taxing financial manipulations while strengthening the social safety net for the needy; strengthening government regulatory oversight regarding food safety, financial honesty, and environmental rules; and replacing a foreign policy based on war with a foreign policy based on compromise (in other words, instead of maximizing the number of adversaries, maximizing the number of people with whom we can do business). All that would put Obama in the history books, but he will need to find some backbone.
Meanwhile, the great Federal experiment continues, with Wisconsin voters having bizarrely placed themselves firmly in the hands of the corporate elite. The great democratic revolt of the 2010-11 winter has been defeated. Expect Greek-style austerity for the people plus an environmentally destructive party for the rich. It appears that the historical birthplace of democratic reform is now going to go in the opposite direction.
The extremists in charge of the Republican Party have lost, on balance, but have hardly been defeated, and they still know exactly what they want. What the American people want is far less clear: they need a leader. Will the junior senator from Massachusetts be able to step up?