Much of Obama's left-wing base is disenchanted and may not give money or get out the vote in the manner of 2008. With control of the presidency and both houses of Congress the last two years, true-blue liberals were sure Obama could easily fulfill campaign promises such as shutting down Guantanamo, ending "don't ask, don't tell," and passing into law amnesty for illegal aliens, card-check for unions, and cap-and-trade for the green lobby. He did none of that, largely because much of his liberal agenda polls well below 50 percent.
But if Republicans take over Congress, they -- not Obama -- can be blamed for the failure to enact the liberal dream. Obama can nostalgically soar with hope-and-change platitudes about his aborted left-wing vision, with the assurance that there is absolutely no chance he will offend the majority of Americans by seeing any of it passed.
Overseas, much of the reset Obama foreign policy either stalled or simply reverted back to the policies of George W. Bush. Iran and North Korea are more anti-American -- and loonier -- than ever before. China is pushing around its neighbors in a way not seen just a few years ago. Russia hasn't helped stop the likely Iranian bomb. We can say that Cuba, Syria and Venezuela sound more friendly, but they still act like enemies. Iraq, Afghanistan and anti-terrorism policies are simply Bush policy rehashes.
A new rejectionist Republican Congress will probably ensure that Obama's therapeutic outreach abroad proves harmless. In turn, the president can safely blame "reactionaries" for blocking more of his utopian foreign-policy initiatives, while his political advisors privately express relief that they did.
If Democrats get clobbered in November, expect just such a passive rope-a-dope strategy, different from the last two years of either the Carter term or the first Clinton term. Obama will let Republicans punch themselves out at the nation's problems, hoping they expend energy and incur blood. Then, as things improve, he can come alive to brag in 2012 that the upturn would have been even better had he not been stopped by right-wing obstructionists.
The mellifluent-talking Obama will do far better if his agenda remains hope-and-change banter instead of becoming messy and costly law. Republicans will try to ensure both -- and thereby may save Obama from himself.