Regardless of how it resolves, President Obama can be thankful to face an opposition energized and intoxicated by its own success. Republicans must mind their base, a group opposed to—and angered by—compromise. When the illusion of mandate carries a victorious party too far, it's never too far toward the middle. Obama will have the foil he lacked in the first two years when an obstinate GOP opposition left him negotiating with the centrists in his own party, enraging his base. Obama can look for a few areas of compromise with the Republicans, giving him credibility when he draws bright lines against their extreme impulses. As the GOP inevitably withdraws from the political center, he will be able to reoccupy it.
One such opportunity will come with the Bush tax cut debate, though it's a debate Democrats seem determined to lose. Republicans should raise a glass to Bush. He and a Republican Congress passed the tax cuts with a 10-year sunset. And yet it is a staple of GOP talking points that any changes in the tax rates come January will be "Obama tax increases." It's both a clever and dizzying piece of sophistry.
Obama, and taxpayers, can also give thanks for good news regarding the reviled Troubled Asset Relief Program, which included the toxic auto bailout. TARP's price tag was originally $700 billion but the most recent Treasury estimate is less than $50 billion, with a possibility of it actually turning a profit—a small price to prevent the collapse of the global financial system. And GM's initial public offering allowed the government to reduce its stake in the auto company by almost half, and that investment too stands a chance of breaking even. This is all in defiance of the economic faith healers ascendant in the GOP who believe in the market's infallibility, regardless of the millions more jobs that would have been lost if, say, the auto industry had collapsed.
These policies might have been the focus of voter rage, but they were correct. And I am thankful for a president willing to risk bad politics for good policy.