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Quick shot: Does Obama get it?

By David Gergen, CNN Senior Political Analyst
  • David Gergen says in recent travels across U.S. he's heard question "Does Obama get it?"
  • He says Americans, who are mainly not liberal, think Obama is, unsure he shares their values
  • In recent profile, Obama sees mistakes on tactics, not substance, of agenda, he says
  • Gergen: Post-election Obama must pivot toward center to meet GOP halfway

Editor's note: There are 14 days to go before the hotly contested midterm elections. In this special feature, CNN political contributor David Gergen shares his quick thoughts on what's making news. Gergen is a senior political analyst for CNN and has been an adviser to four U.S. presidents. He is a professor of public service and director of the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School.

(CNN) -- "Does he get it?" That is a question about President Obama that I have heard repeatedly in recent travels from people across the country.

If they read an in-depth portrait of the president by Peter Baker this past Sunday in The New York Times Magazine, I imagine many of them would conclude, "No, he doesn't."

Most Americans, I sense, still want the president to succeed -- partly because they like him personally, partly because they are worried about the country. But they are not sure he gets them, their values or the way they see the world.

Example: Twenty percent of Americans regularly identify themselves as liberals, but according to some polling, 66 percent say that Obama is liberal. That means roughly 46 percent think he is to the left of them. They want to see a fundamental change in direction.

But the Baker piece emphasizes that the president and his aides have a different take on reality. Reflecting on the first two years, they say: Yes, we made mistakes, but on tactics, not on the big things. Example: They argue that their mistake on health care was to negotiate too long with Republicans. That's not the real problem, say a majority of Americans. They think the health care bill is flawed (some think it is not liberal enough).

Both in his recent appointments and in his reflections on policy, as Baker recognizes, the president's emphasis is much more upon continuity than upon change. It's his call, but it strikes me as the wrong call.

More quick shots: California dreamin' in 2010

After these elections are over, the country will face a crucial moment in governing, one that will demand the two sides stop squabbling and work together to head off a deepening national crisis. It will be hard enough to persuade Republicans, who may be flush from victory, to work with Democrats. Some would say impossible.

But unless the president signals change -- unless he shows he wants to meet them halfway by pivoting toward the center -- prospects for the country could go down sharply.

The opinions expressed in this commentary is solely those of David Gergen.