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November 06, 2010

If Speaker Nancy Pelosi succeeds in becoming minority leader, then House Democrats will get more of the same of what they got on Tuesday night.

Pelosi is a damaged, deeply polarizing figure whose retention as House leader will guarantee continued difficulties for those Democrats who had rough races in red districts Tuesday and those Democrats whose seats tilt more red because of redistricting next year.

The soon-to-be former speaker will also feed President Obama's worst instincts. She shares the White House view that Tuesday was the result of inadequate communications, insufficiently liberal initiatives, and not curt enough dismissal of Republicans. These got Democrats into their electoral pickle: Pelosi's continuation will only make conditions worse in the House.

(A separate question for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is whether he's up to managing a chamber with a six-seat, rather than an 18-seat, margin. Will his skills, energy and attitude allow him to steer the Senate's business while creating moments of compromise with an emboldened GOP minority?)

The biggest question for congressional Democrats is whether President Obama tries to copy Bill Clinton's model of '95, giving the GOP some of what it wanted (in Clinton's case, balanced budgets and welfare reform) while getting what he wanted (more domestic spending)? Or will Obama attempt a Harry Truman '48, digging in his heels on a liberal agenda and blasting the GOP for opposing it? Darned if I know and, I suspect, darned if Obama really knows yet either.

This article originally appeared on washingtonpost.com on Sunday, November 7, 2010.

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