After the Rose Bowl is over and the hangover has passed, President Obama will awake to a new political landscape in the new year. As the fresh wave of Republican Congressmen are sworn in, he will need to figure out how he will manage a legislative agenda in the face of diehards who want nothing more than to end his presidency.
You may see him smoking more often. Yet, if the stresses in his life are only going to multiply, one can overstate the advantage a Democratic president enjoys when his party controls the legislature. Although he probably had a bit too much time to hang out with interns, nonetheless Bill Clinton's most successful years came after his party had lost control of Congress. And given, for instance, the way Congressional Democrats stuffed all sorts of pork into President Obama's stimulus legislation last year, making it unpopular with many Americans, he might well wonder if he does better to deal with declared enemies, than with dubious friends.
Nonetheless, 2010 is not 1994, and Barack Obama is not Bill Clinton. Instinctively and ideologically, he is not the sort of 'triangulator' who will deliberately seek to carve out a middle ground he can call his own. Obama does compromise, but he does it more as a political necessity than as a matter of principle. He wants, and probably needs, to retain his electoral base in the Democratic Party. That will prove difficult.
After nearly 30 years of what they saw as conservative presidents, left-wing Democrats were hungry for red meat when they elected Barack Obama. Perhaps they expected too much of a president who governs what is still, relatively speaking, a conservative country. But today, all you have to do is watch the 'Daily Show' to see how angry liberals are with Mr Obama's recent compromises with Republicans - particularly his willingness to cut taxes on the rich in order to salvage his tax legislation.
But Mr Obama is sailing between Scylla and Charybdis. Tacking to the left may please his Democratic base, which he doesn't want to alienate lest a primary challenger emerges in 2012. But if he goes too far left, he could be seen by independent voters as being out of touch. They want action on the economy more than ideological purity.
Polls show that most Americans share the anti-rich mood of the Democratic left. But they are also suspicious of Congress in general. There is little to gain in hewing too close to his legislative counterparts, but much to be gained from seeing to try to advance some legislative agenda, however imperfect.
Therefore, Mr Obama's best hope is apparently to steer a middle course in which he appears willing to compromise, but draws his lines in the sand. There is little evidence that the Republican war-footing has much public backing. Supporters of the Tea Party revolt are generally more moderate than their leaders. And the self-appointed spokes-people of the right, like Glenn Beck, are beloved by the Republican base, but too extreme for most Americans.
Real skill needed
It will require real skill to pilot his presidency through the vicious waters of the next two years. But if Mr Obama can appear to be trying his best, with good ideas and a willingness to talk, Republican ideologues may do all the dirty work for him. The type of cutbacks in social programmes they would need to achieve in order to roll back taxes enjoy little popular support. Nor do across-the-board tax cuts. In time, the Tea Party revolt may even find a left-wing rival. At that point, President Obama may be able to play one off against the other.
His best hope probably remains Sarah Palin. Her run for the Republican nomination may well fracture her party. Within the Republican Party, no candidate as yet rivals her for popularity. Within the wider society, no candidate is more likely to drive independent voters back into Barack Obama's arms.
The next couple of years will require some deft manoeuvring by the president. But behind the grey cloud of his electoral 'shellacking', there may yet be a silver lining.
John Rapley is president of the Caribbean Policy Research Institute, an independent research think tank affiliated with the University of the West Indies, Mona. Feedback may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.