The election put Republicans in charge of the House of Representatives and weakened the Democratic majority in the Senate. Commentators, both right and left, are wondering if the influence of the Tea Party was more of a help or a hindrance, given that in the Nevada and Delaware Senate races, the people elected Democrats over Republicans supported by the Tea Party, but overall it was a gain for the Republicans.
But of greater influence was Obama himself. Even the influence of the Tea Party is a derivative of his own influence. And President Obama has been quite a different person from Candidate Obama. When he was a candidate, he played the "Hope and Change" mantra to the fullest, inspiring audiences with the possibilities of what he would accomplish. In many ways he was a blank slate on which people would draw whatever they wanted to see in a presidential candidate.
Upon assuming office, much of the glamor quickly faded. He got mired in the details, and failed to lead his own party in pushing issues favored by his party’s base. Those who are more observant knew that Obama wasn’t a peace candidate, that he only appeared that way because he was running against Hillary Clinton and later John McCain, and those two were so militaristic that anyone would appear peaceful compared to them. The genuine peace candidates in the Democratic Party primary washed out quickly, one of them transferring to the Libertarian Party.
Since he assumed office, he has alienated two of the traditional bases of the Democratic Party; feminists, and those who support gay rights.
On the issue of gay rights, it was a Republican appointed judge who overturned California Proposition 8, and it was a Republican plaintiff who launched the most successful attack on Don't Ask Don't Tell. Obama has refused to do anything about Don't Ask Don't Tell, allowing Harry Reid to stick it in a bill in such a way to guarantee its failure, and he has refused to move on marriage equality.
On the issue of feminism, it was reported that a woman who was an actual DNC delegate in 2008 reported that she could barely stomach voting for Democrats in the comment section of a New York Times opinion piece. Unable to link to the comment, this paraphrase will have to do to express her complaints:
*misogynistic tactics used against Clinton in the 2008 campaign (which apparently still lurks unhappily in some women's memories)
*freely slung accusations of racism to anyone who does not support Obama past or present
*democratic/liberal assertions that Islam is religion of peace, while, to any western woman's perspective, it is polluted by the subjugation and abuse of women
*reproductive rights no longer hold the sway over female voters that they once did, either because they believe them to be ironclad or they have developed pro-life leanings to whatever modest degree
*Democrats have done little more for women than have Republicans in the past 30+ years
Obama's proudest achievement is a version of Healthcare Reform so watered down and compromised that most progressives are unable to actually claim it as an achievement without holding their nose. As a candidate, he was in favor of Universal Health Care. As president, he was in favor of Single Payer. The bill he signed contained nothing but countless new regulations and a mandate to buy insurance or be fined.
While some analysts are suggesting that the Republican victory in 2010 will result in an Obama reelection in 2012, perhaps that is not Obama’s plan.
The winner of the 2012 election will be in a very bad situation. The economy will have made little improvement at best, and according to current projections the breakeven year for Social Security is 2016. That means whoever wins the 2012 election will have to deal with the fiscal mess of the collapse of Social Security, an unenviable position.
Had Hillary Clinton won the Democratic Primary in 2008, it would have guaranteed a Republican victory in the general election. Continued economic woes as started under President Bush would continue, and the Republicans would have nobody to blame and the public would not blame anyone else, resulting in a Democratic victory in 2012 and leaving them with the "hot potato" as a result.
Instead Obama entered the race to beat Hillary, and then went on to use popular dissatisfaction with the status quo and Republican leadership to win the presidential race in 2008. By then failing to achieve anything, and giving the country laughable examples of attempts to fix the economy, by alienating his own base by failing to lead, he may be working to ensure a Republican victory in 2012 and thus leave them with the upcoming financial catastrophe.
One does not succeed in politics by only thinking in the short term. The leadership of both parties know this, and have to think beyond the next election even if those who are in office seldom think that far ahead.