The election is over and the results are in, with a few interesting exceptions.  On the other hand, “what it means” is as disputed as before the ballots were counted.  Many on the Right claim the vote is a repudiation of the entire Obama agenda.  If that is true, then the election of 1982 was a complete repudiation of the Reagan agenda.  Like we say, it all depends on whose ox is being gored.

Unless there are explicit and precise exit polls to substantiate it, any claim that the voters rejected a particular policy or act of Congress is simply hot air.  That the voters were unhappy with the state of things is, however, indisputable.

There is no evidence that the voters were angered by the health care reform bill per se.  Let us recall that Obama campaigned on that issue specifically.  What he did was deliver on his campaign promise.  Unusual, perhaps, but what voters supposedly want from their candidates. Financial reform? By a large margin, exit polls say that voters blame “Wall Street” for the financial mess, so how could they simultaneously oppose regulation to prevent the excesses that indisputably let to the financial collapse of 2008.

The problem is that those bills, even if you give them the benefit of the doubt, promise better times in the future.  Voters, however, vote based on how things are now.  I say again, NOW.  ‘Now’ still sucks for a great many people, and that was the crux of Tuesday’s vote.  The objection isn’t to those pieces of legislation per se, but rather that Obama and the Congress gave them priority over making things better now.

Politicians of both parties are subject to the same flaw: they believe their own hype, and when they win an election, they believe that the electorate has suddenly embraced their agenda and their philosophy.  Well, in those classic words, “It ain’t necessarily so.”  More likely, and certainly as in 2006, 2008, and 2010, it only means that the electorate is seriously pissed with the incumbents and wants to give them a smack upside the head.  Nonetheless, the winners proceed to proclaim their moral superiority and set about to enact their agenda.  That failed big-time for the Republicans after 1994; one can only hope they remember that lesson.  The Dems certaintly did not remember the lesson they should have learned in 1992-1994.

Here’s the bottom line.  “It’s the economy, stupid!” Just as it was in 1992 when Clinton won because the electorate was unhappy with the economy. Get this: if the economy had improved significantly in the past two years; if the unemployment rate had dropped back to 5-6%, then the Dems would have retained much of their seats and offices, regardless of Obamacare and the other bills that got signed.

The President seems now to be getting it.  In comments from an interview published today, he acknowledges that he failed to communicate effectively to the public about the value of the bills that Congress passed and the prospects for the economy.  That is undeniably true.  And it is a significant disappointment for me that, overall, he as failed as President to be the inspirational and motivating communicator that he was in the campaign.

That said, probably no leader in a democratic society can be so effective as to placate the public when the economy is very bad.  It has been noted that the Democrats loss of seats in the House this mid-term election is the worst since 1938.  1938?  Yes, the mid-term election of FDR’s second term — FDR, the now-legendary President who, through his “Fireside Chats” reassured the American public and gave them hope through the Great Depression.

So yes, Obama needs to get back in touch with the everyday folks, as he said, and be more visible as the guy who is working in their behalf.  Even more important, he needs to have the economy improve a lot by November, 2012.  This may mean compromising the “long term” in favor of what works now.  Be successful and he will join Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton in the ranks of Presidents who survived a setback in the middle of their first term.  Otherwise, he joins one-term Presidents Jimmy Carter and George HW Bush who were ousted because of a troubled economy.