Why Barack Obama is still better off than he was two weeks ago.

Notes from the political sidelines.
Feb. 6 2009 9:53 AM

So You Had a Bad Day

Why Barack Obama is still better off than he was two weeks ago.

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The Obama coalition is emerging. In the long run, that may be the most important lesson of the past week: Slowly but surely, Obama might actually succeed in building the post-partisan working majority he promised, notwithstanding the skepticism and reluctance of some on both sides of the aisle.

Journalists were quick to invoke the "rule of three" about nominees' tax problems but overlooked a remarkable rule of three that few saw coming: With Judd Gregg's appointment at Commerce, Obama's Cabinet now includes three members of the opposing party (Gregg, Ray LaHood, and Robert Gates)—which may well set the record. Nowadays, any president would be grateful for three strong defenders from the other party. Not only will Obama be well-served by hearing a broad range of views, but the new members of his team may help him persuade some of their former colleagues to resist the easy no and consider joining a coalition of the willing.

In fact, the economic recovery debate has already jump-started the makings of a promising post-partisan caucus in the Senate. The intense bipartisan negotiations led by Sens. Ben Nelson and Susan Collins could have lasting repercussions beyond the economic package. As Sen. Evan Bayh suggests, that group "might be the president's best allies, helping him achieve his objective but honoring the reform message he stands for."

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Obama's graceful rise to the White House left many with the hope that he could somehow permanently suspend the laws of political gravity. The president never harbored that illusion, nor should all of us who root for him. Obama's success depends not on making the job look easy but on reminding the country that the road ahead will not be.

On bad days at the White House, the sky always looks like it's raining pianos. But Obama's quick recovery this week suggests there will be many better days ahead.

Bruce Reed, who was President Clinton's domestic policy adviser, is CEO of the Democratic Leadership Council and co-author with Rahm Emanuel of The Plan: Big Ideas for Change in America.E-mail him at thehasbeen@gmail.com. Read his disclosure here.