The thrashing that voters administered to the Democrats in the midterm congressional elections confirmed the old admonition Harry Truman kept on his White House desk: "The buck stops here."

The Republicans widened their hold on the House and wrested control of the Senate in a convincing wave of rejection against the party of President Obama and the man himself. The clear message successfully sold by the Republicans was that the country wasn't functioning, and that the fault rested with the man in the Oval Office.


No doubt local concerns with individual Democratic congressmen and Senate candidates contributed here and there to the debacle. But overall it was the message that the man in charge wasn't doing his job. Bureaucratic scandals from the Veterans Health Administration and the Internal Revenue Service to the Immigration and Naturalization Service and particularly the bungled rollout of the health-care insurance plan fueled the lament.

It didn't matter that public opinion polls before the midterm elections and exit polls afterward found even higher public disapproval of Congress than of the president. The Republican strategists' bet on wide voter distaste for the cool and aloof chief executive proved to be more than enough to deliver a resounding rebuff to him and his party.

It was a phenomenon for the psychiatrists and sociologists to ponder, especially because leading statistical indicators of the health of the economy was that at last it was on the upswing from the Great Recession of 2008. The jobless rate had dropped to below 6 percent from of a high of 10 percent, with hires up to 200,000 a month or more and the stock market booming.

Democratic analysts insisted that despite these factors, middle-income and lower-income Americans were not experiencing much or any progress in their standard of living, as others better off were prospering. But the old class-warfare card wasn't playing for the Democrats.

In terms of the rhetoric of the 2012 presidential campaign of Mitt Romney, the 47 percent of the electorate who received federal government largesse were not shutting out his Republican Party, as they had in that failed Romney campaign. Instead, it could be surmised many of them were expressing their discontent with the performance of the Democratic president.

If this was so, one could wonder why the triumphant Republicans would abandon their strategy of obstructing Obama's agenda across the board in his remaining two-plus years in the presidency.

Post-election talk from the prospective Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner on seeking common ground would certainly be welcome, if the Republicans are truly concerned about combatting the Democratic branding of them as obstructionists and the Party of No.

But there already are signs that they are more than willing, with their newly demonstrated clout, to go to the mat in partisan brawling. Mr. McConnell has warned that Mr. Obama's intent to proceed with an executive order on immigration reform if a House bill already passed is not sent to the Senate for action would be a "poison pill" to any new bipartisan cooperation.

Indeed, it seems more likely that the reinforcement of GOP strength from the midterm elections will encourage the new congressional majorities to press their advantage as they gear up for the next major political challenge -- retaking the White House in 2016.

The reality of the political road map, which favored them with more Democratic Senate seats at stake this fall, will see a switch in 2016 with more Republican senators risking their seats, and with an anticipated larger turnout among traditionally stronger Democratic racial and ethnic groups.

Also, as of now the Democrats are approaching the next presidential election year with their expected nominee, Hillary Clinton, already gearing up for the race and no major challenger in sight to force her into a primary fight. Vice President Joe Biden is considered unlikely to run against her if she goes ahead and runs.

But a growing view within the GOP holds that while she would be a formidable nominee, her ties to Mr. Obama as his secretary of state and to the past in Washington would make her vulnerable to a credible Republican nominee. That is, if one emerges from the early crop of hopefuls so far.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "Joe Biden: A Life of Trial and Redemption" (William Morrow). His email is juleswitcover@comcast.net.