The elections are over. The results are obviously against you and your party. You know the election was a referendum on your job approval voiced by both those who oppose and backers who have lost faith. What do you do now?

Despite the warm and fuzzy words from the soon-to-be majority leader in the Senate and threats from the Speaker of the House (with less warm and fuzzy noises about cooperation) and the prospect of a litany of business-friendly legislation, you are acutely aware that the stage is being set by the opposition party to win the presidency in 2016 and that Republicans will likely as not return to form and "make it all about Obama" as soon as you threaten a veto. You have already seen the opposition outliers testing the theme of making the Democrats the party of "no." You are probably even aware that your own party has no message for the American public and your promise of change no longer resonates. So what are your moves for the next two years?

The one thing our president is not is stupid. He, like we, knew before the election took place that it would be an unfavorable outcome. He had time to plan his moves and he came out swinging. In less than a week: he came out strongly in favor of net neutrality, sent an additional 1,500 troops to Iraq, named a black woman as his nominee for attorney general, threatened executive action on immigration, refocused press attention on a potential deal with Iran and charged off to China to promote a business-friendly trade deal.


This is not a passive response. Unfortunately it is more of the same — the same military/industrial skewed idea of what DINOs (Democrats in Name Only) cut from the Bill Clinton cloth think is "viable politics." With the possible exception of the position taken on net neutrality, there is nothing here for the middle class. Under the rumored terms of the Trans Pacific Partnership, a trade deal, business will love it and more jobs will be outsourced with lip service paid to the financial and retraining needs of the displaced American workers.

While we can only speculate on what the president hopes to accomplish in the next two years, it seems pretty clear that he is setting the stage for Hillary Clinton on the one hand and burnishing his legacy on the other. What does he hope to leave behind? There is a healthcare plan; expanded rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community; an economic recovery that will continue; a salvaged and intact banking system; some consumer protection against predatory lending; a strong defense of civil rights (despite the Supreme Court); some environmental action and, if he is lucky, a diminished military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. Paul Krugman, economic columnist for The New York Times, believes Obama is "one of the most consequential and, yes, successful presidents in American history."

So in assessing his actions for the next two years, you can be very certain that the president will vigorously defend this emerging legacy. That is not an offense; it is a defense. Now that the election is over, the Supreme Court will continue to diminish its nonpartisan standing by assisting Republicans to further degrade the healthcare legislation. You can bet that the president will fight ferociously to retain the "almost" universal coverage that was promised. Likely as not, he will trade support for the Keystone XL pipeline for some balancing environmental goal like the extension of tax subsidies for renewable energy technology. Tax reform will undoubtedly favor business, with little or no relief for middle-class citizens.

If he does follow that script, there will be a missed opportunity. Because the Republicans will be desperate for legislative success and Obama is disposed to business-friendly outcomes, he will not extract trade-offs that lead to anything more than kudos for Republicans. The Democratic Party will still be without a clear message of what it stands for, it will still be rudderless with respect to its discipline, consistency or voice and the president will not solve the problem he has faced for the past four years of allowing the opposition define him and his party. Obama won in 2012 with a reprise of his populist message, but seems to have no disposition to make that his exclusive legacy. As former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo (D) used to say, "You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose."

For the longest time, we have felt that the Republicans were not fit to govern. However, their members have proven that they have very smart strategies for gaining power and control. The irony of the "just say no" party getting elected because the public was disgusted with the congressional inaction they caused has not been lost on serious students of the game. Republican policies led us to the economic downturn in 2008. Republican policies resulted in unmanageable fiscal deficits. It will be Republican policy initiatives in the next two years that will make the U.S. look more like Europe, where there is a rigid approach to budget balancing and a slavish devotion to the "job creators." (Average unemployment in Europe stands at 11.2 percent). The next two years will be a lesson in message management and maneuvers designed to keep a uniformed public focused on convenient truths unless the president uses his time to redefine Democratic Party policy objectives.

The president, whose leadership position and bully pulpit place him in a position to actually make that happen, could burnish his legacy by creating a consistent vision for the Democratic Party and a clear voice. He has shown some disposition to do just that with his various speeches devoted to one policy area or another, but he has consistently stepped away from his statements by his transactional dealmaking initiatives or his intellectual or pragmatic approach to foreign policy. If he fails to make the effort, he will fail to take advantage of widespread support for a host of issues where there are strong sentiments: job creation and job training, gun control legislation, opposing voter restrictions, educational reforms, a secure financial safety net, relief of student debt burdens, Veterans Affairs treatment, a fair and graduated tax system, environmental and climate change initiatives, reduction of government inefficiencies and overburdening regulation, continuous military engagement abroad, abuses in campaign financing and lobbyist influence. The pity is that he would have to meet with, deal and actually lead his fellow Democrats, and that is just not going to happen.

Russell is managing director of Cove Hill Advisory Services.