Read Slate's complete coverage of the 2010 midterm elections.
Nor did Boehner proclaim a new relationship between Congress and the public, as Gingrich did. On the contrary, Boehner emphasized the centrality of Obama's relationship with the public: "We hope President Obama will now respect the will of the people, change course, and commit to making changes that they are demanding. And to the extent that he's willing to do that, we're ready to work with him."
Video: John Boehner leads the GOP takeover of the House
Politically, Boehner's deference makes sense. Voters are angry. They want the economy fixed, but it's too messed up to be repaired before the next election. In these circumstances, the worst place to be, from an electoral standpoint, is in power. You want to be the linebacker, not the quarterback. You're better off with Boehner's vacuous Pledge to America than the substantial Contract With America.
But politics, too, has its price. Fear of electoral failure can make you impotent in office. You spend the years between elections ducking the risks of leadership. You wedgislate and hedgislate, but you never really legislate. For the sake of your career, you waste it.
That's what I admire about Gingrich and Obama. Obama may lose more seats in Congress than Clinton did. He may be thrown out after one term. But he'll have accomplished more than Clinton did, because he focused on doing the job, not keeping it.
The voters have spoken, Mr. Speaker. It's time to lead. Do it, and take the consequences.