US President Barack Obama has acknowledged that he must make some “mid-course corrections” if he is going to win over a frustrated electorate and work with empowered Republicans.
Speaking on an economic tour of Asian nations, Obama told college students in Mumbai the midterm elections back home reflected the “right, obligation and duty” of people to express their unhappiness by voting out many incumbents.
The president himself was not on the ballot last week, but his Democratic Party took a beating. Republicans won control of the House of Representatives, eroded the Democratic majority in the Senate, made huge gains at the state level and broadly changed the political landscape as Obama positions himself for his own re-election campaign in 2012.
Obama said he would not change his determination to invest money in education, infrastructure and clean energy at a time when the pressures in Washington are to slash spending. But he said the election “requires me to make some mid-course corrections and adjustments”.
He said how those will play out over the next several months will depend on his talks with Republicans. His comments seemed to reflect a deeper acknowledgement of the need to make course corrections from the White House, but as he did at a news conference the day after the election, Obama stayed purposely vague on how he would reposition his agenda.
The town hall with students, now a staple of Obama’s foreign travel, was part of his outreach to India, a democracy of more than 1 billion people. India is an emerging power in Asia and an increasingly important partner to the US on trade and security, in part because its rise offers a measure of balance to the growing strength of China.
Obama is in the midst of his lengthiest trip abroad as president, a 10-day journey across India, Indonesia, South Korea and Japan.
He began by showing a softer side, chatting with students at a different school and even getting up to dance with them, albeit reluctantly, after his wife, Michelle, had eagerly done the same.
Obama took a range of questions from the students at St Xavier College, a Jesuit institution, on a sweltering day in this financial hub. When a young woman challenged him on US support of Pakistan, Obama said, “I must admit I expected it.”
India is deeply suspicious of neighbouring Pakistan as a threat to its security, with memories still fresh of a terrorist shooting rampage in Mumbai in 2008, at the hand of Pakistani militants. Obama yesterday spoke of US solidarity with India in honouring those slain in that attack, but his lack of any mention of Pakistan angered some India commentators.