Michael Gerson

Environmental and health reforms that might have been more popular in other times were derided as distractions. And these measures were perceived as attacks on business during an economic downturn. "If you gave Democratic leaders truth serum and asked, 'Do you hate business?' they would say 'no' and pass the test. But it would be hard to convince a lot of businesspeople. Democrats were tone-deaf to how their actions would be perceived."

Question: What lessons should Obama's political aides take away from these likely political reverses?

"It was the political aides," counters Cook, "who lost the arguments. Rahm (Emanuel) knew they should cut a deal on health care, get to the economy." But Obama held a different view of himself and his presidency. "He had already been first at everything. He wanted to be something other than the first -- to be historical, game-changing, to have grand influence like FDR or LBJ. But he missed out on the day job," which was jobs and economic growth.

Some, Cook says, "are told all their lives that they are the most brilliant people on the planet. They don't get less bright, but hubris kicks in. (Obama) just assumed that he was going to be a success, as he had always been in life."

According to Cook, this reflects a lack of experience. "Experience is not an end, it is a means to an end: judgment." Cook said that a few years in the Senate "don't give an understanding of institutions and their dynamics. If (Obama) had been in the Senate six or eight years, he might have accumulated the wisdom to match the intelligence."

Question: What should we look for on election night to judge the height of the wave?

Control of the Senate will be the main, early source of drama. "If the Democrats hold Connecticut and hold West Virginia, that means the rest of the evening Republicans have to run the table, including Washington and California. Winning both of those is an enormous challenge."

The outcome in the House, Cook believes, will be decided by around 11:30 Eastern time. If his predictions are borne out, Obama's world will change utterly by the stroke of midnight.

Michael Gerson

Michael Gerson writes a twice-weekly column for The Post on issues that include politics, global health, development, religion and foreign policy. Michael Gerson is the author of the book "Heroic Conservatism" and a contributor to Newsweek magazine.
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