The President's Post-Election Press Conference and the Dog That Didn't Bark

By Stanley Renshon and Stanley Renshon on November 7, 2010

In one of the most widely known deductions in the Sherlock Holmes mysteries oeuvre, the famously logical detective realized that the fact that a guard dog didn't bark meant he must have known the killer.

Which brings us to the president's post election press conference.

Among the many questions he was asked, several had to do with the possibilities of finding common ground with the new Republican Congress:

Q Thank you, Mr. President. Are you willing to concede at all that what happened last night was not just an expression of frustration about the economy, but a fundamental rejection of your agenda? And given the results, who do you think speaks to the true voice of the American people right now: you or John Boehner?

THE PRESIDENT:… Now, moving forward, I think the question Is going to be can Democrats and Republicans sit down together and come up with a set of ideas that address those core concerns. I'm confident that we can.

I think that there are some areas where it's going to be very difficult for us to agree on, but I think there are going to be a whole bunch of areas where we can agree on. I don't think there's anybody in America who thinks that we've got an energy policy that works the way it needs to; that thinks that we shouldn't be working on energy independence. And that gives opportunities for Democrats and Republicans to come together and think about, whether it's natural gas or energy efficiency or how we can build electric cars in this country, how do we move forward on that agenda.

I think everybody in this country thinks that we've got to make sure our kids are equipped in terms of their education, their science background, their math backgrounds, to compete in this new global economy. And that's going to be an area where I think there's potential common ground.

So on a whole range of issues, there are going to be areas where we disagree. I think the overwhelming message that I hear from the voters is that we want everybody to act responsibly in Washington. We want you to work harder to arrive at consensus. We want you to focus completely on jobs and the economy and growing it, so that we're ensuring a better future for our children and our grandchildren.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. After your election two years ago, when you met with Republicans you said that, in discussing what policies might go forward, that elections have consequences, and that you pointed out that you had won. I wonder what consequences you think this election should have then, in terms of your policies. Are there areas that you're willing -- can you name today areas that you would be willing to compromise on that you might not have been willing to compromise on in the past?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think I've been willing to compromise in the past and I'm going to be willing to compromise going forward on a whole range of issues. Let me give you an example -- the issue of energy that I just mentioned.

I think there are a lot of Republicans that ran against the energy bill that passed in the House last year. And so it's doubtful that you could get the votes to pass that through the House this year or next year or the year after. But that doesn't mean there isn't agreement that we should have a better energy policy. And so let's find those areas where we can agree.

We've got, I think, broad agreement that we've got terrific natural gas resources in this country. Are we doing everything we can to develop those? There's a lot of agreement around the need to make sure that electric cars are developed here in the United States, that we don't fall behind other countries. Are there things that we can do to encourage that? And there's already been bipartisan interest on those issues.

There's been discussion about how we can restart our nuclear industry as a means of reducing our dependence on foreign oil and reducing greenhouse gases. Is that an area where we can move forward?

We were able, over the last two years, to increase for the first time in 30 years fuel-efficiency standards on cars and trucks. We didn't even need legislation. We just needed the cooperation of automakers and autoworkers and investors and other shareholders. And that's going to move us forward in a serious way.

So I think when it comes to something like energy, what we're probably going to have to do is say here are some areas where there's just too much disagreement between Democrats and Republicans, we can't get this done right now, but let's not wait. Let's go ahead and start making some progress on the things that we do agree on, and we can continue to have a strong and healthy debate about those areas where we don't.

Notice anything missing?

Yes, immigration. The president didn't mention the word, and his silence is noticeable. The real question is: what does it mean?

Well, one thing is clear. Given the election results and the president's predictable talk about finding common ground, listing bipartisanship legalization legislation as one of those areas would be dismissed as unserious. Worse, for the president, it would be inconsistent with his new "let's work together" meme designed to replace the threadbare fabric of his presidential campaign promises to govern as a moderate post-partisan.

At any rate, his new rhetorical stance is as likely as his old one to be just as narrow, sincerely felt, and fleeting.

President Obama remains committed to the policy goals he has championed since he was a state senator, legalization of undocumented immigrants among them. And no election that leaves him in office will change his conviction that they are the right policies and must be put into place. He will spend part of his next two years trying to figure out how to do it.

Part of this effort will be to continue and expand the administration's focus on "criminal aliens," leaving mere "undocumented immigrants" free to continue to live and work in the United States.

This will, in effect, send out an easily received signal: As the American economy improves, come work; you won't be bothered as long as you aren't convicted of a felony, sent to jail and, as a result, come to the attention of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

And then there is always the "DREAM Act" to put legalization opponents on the defensive, shore up and possibly extend your growing Latino base, and make use of the most sympathetic group of undocumented immigrants – those brought here as children, illegally, by their parents.

Those who have other views about what a fair and equitable American immigration policy should look like are well advised to make good use of this time. The election results have provided a hiatus, not a reprieve.