If the White House learns the right lessons from this stunning loss, it will turn out to be a blessing. A blessing in a very heavy disguise, I realize, but a blessing nonetheless.
President Obama can still course-correct in time to avoid the looming iceberg that Democrats are headed for in 2010. In the wake of Massachusetts, he should take a step back, take a metaphorical trip to the mountaintop, and reconnect with the reasons why he ran -- and why he got elected.
Since there is no other job that prepares you to be president, the best presidents are the ones with the ability to learn on the job and the willingness to course-correct. First, the Obama White House has to admit it is heading in the wrong direction. Then it needs to bring all hands on deck, toss overboard a few who currently have their hands on the wheel -- and turn hard to change course.
Some, including Joe Lieberman and Evan Bayh, are saying that the outcome in Massachusetts is an indication that Obama and the Democrats need to move to the middle and focus on trying to make bipartisan deals. This, of course, is exactly what the Democrats have been doing all year. If they redouble their efforts to curry favor with the Olympia Snowes of the world, they'll be making a grave mistake.
Celinda Lake, Martha Coakley's pollster, spoke the truth yesterday when she said their campaign was hurt by the White House's failure to confront Wall Street. This has left Democratic candidates the targets of angry voters -- especially angry independent voters -- worried about the economy.
For the last 12 months, the administration has been tone-deaf to just how much the economy has impacted Americans' lives. This has allowed populist rage to grow, and put Democrats -- who have been hot and heavy with the big banks and insurance companies all year -- squarely in voters' crosshairs.
In the last week, the president and his team have upped the populist rhetoric. But if they want people to believe their fiery pronouncements about taking on "powerful interests" and "the status quo," they need to remember that the middle, the place the Evan Bayh crowd wants them to move toward, is exactly where the status quo resides.
The course the Obama White House needs to chart is neither left nor right. It leads directly to the priorities of America's middle-class families, who are worried about jobs, foreclosures, mounting credit card debt, are convinced that the fix is in -- and are looking desperately for someone on their side.