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Obama's 'shellacking' puts his legacy in jeopardy

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Just one day after his party suffered what he called a “shellacking” at the polls, an uncharacteristically downtrodden President Barack Obama admitted Wednesday that the referendum on his agenda so far in office “feels bad.”

Obama said he accepted responsibility for the still-struggling economy and other political missteps that paved the way for the Republicans to win control of the House with at least 239 seats, 60 of which had belonged to Democrats.

“There’s no doubt that as I reflect on the results of the election, it underscores for me that I’ve got to do a better job,” Obama said, “just like everybody else in Washington does.”

The apologetic tone that Obama adopted during a news conference Wednesday isn’t the attitude that’ll help him fend off GOP attacks in the next two years of his term, experts said. Nor will it improve his chances of getting re-elected in 2012, they said.

“It was conciliatory and rambling. He was flailing to find issues to compromise on,” said Princeton University public affairs professor Julian E. Zelizer. “It wasn’t the image of someone who’s decisive and in control.”

The president by nature is a consensus seeker, Zelizer said. “He’s not totally comfortable with the political part of the job.”

But Obama, 49, better buck up if he wants to stay in the White House.

Experts said he’ll have to quickly create jobs and ensure the policies he spent his political capital on — namely health care reform — deliver results. Whether he increases taxes next year could be another deal breaker, said conservative political expert Kevin Patrick.

The more Obama leans toward the center to appease the Republicans, however, the more he risks alienating his liberal base. In that case, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — who wisely stayed off the stump this election season — may become a more viable 2012 presidential candidate for the Democrats, Zelizer said.

Patrick said it’s all about results at this point. “It doesn’t matter who challenges him, he’ll win in 2012 if the economy is booming and joblessness has dropped dramatically.”

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