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Blitzer: Will Obama follow Clinton's 1994 playbook?

By Wolf Blitzer, Anchor of CNN's 'The Situation Room'
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Post-midterm flashback?
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Wolf Blitzer attended Clinton's 1994 news conference after Democrats lost Congress
  • Similarities between Clinton's situation and Obama's are striking, Blitzer writes
  • Obama faces a choice: "Triangulate" like Clinton or forge your own path, Blitzer writes

Editor's note: Join Wolf Blitzer in "The Situation Room" at 5 p.m. ET.

Washington (CNN) -- Watching President Obama react to what he called his "shellacking" in the midterm elections had me remembering then-President Bill Clinton back on November 9, 1994 -- the day after he and his fellow Democrats lost control of the House and the Senate.

I was then CNN's Senior White House correspondent and I vividly remember attending Clinton's news conference. Like Obama this week, he was humble in defeat.

None of us knew what to expect from Clinton on that day 16 years ago, but he came out and was direct -- he said that he took responsibility for the political disaster.

On Wednesday, Obama was clearly somber and sad. But like Clinton in 1994 he answered questions for nearly an hour.

What a difference it was for both presidents from their election days.

Clinton was in Little Rock in November 1992 when he was elected: Obama was in Chicago on November 4, 2008, when he was elected -- exactly two years ago today.

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How quickly their political fortunes changed.

A fundamental lesson in American politics is that things can -- and often do -- change rather dramatically and very quickly. And that means that things can dramatically change over the next two years as well.

So the issue for Obama is what he does next. Does he follow Clinton's playbook and move toward the center -- what was called "triangulation"? Will Obama separate himself from the liberal base of the Democratic Party -- as Clinton did?

As much as Obama doesn't want to do that, he's a politician, and politicians have a very powerful instinct for their own political survival, especially when they face re-election in two years.

Just ask Clinton. He pushed for welfare reform and a balanced budget -- to the deep concern of his liberal base. But he beat Bob Dole and was re-elected.

 
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