First, let's get past the idea that we've had anything other than divided government over the past two years. Even when the Democrats had sixty members in their Senate caucus, getting all sixty to cooperate was nearly impossible. Getting any significant legislation enacted — the foremost being the health care and financial reform bills — required watering that legislation down to an extremely thin gruel.
Now that the Republicans have taken the House, I suppose we can expect a string of ideologically pure bills to emerge, designed primarily to embarrass the President and make him look weak. Making Obama look weak has not been terribly difficult to date, and unless he stops trying to "compromise" with people who refuse to compromise, he will go on looking weak in the future.
In the new Senate, it is not hard to imagine the Republican minority scraping up four Democratic votes to pass bills that come from the House, especially if they dealt with social issues (or weakening financial reform.) Could Senate Democrats scrape up forty-one votes to filibuster a bill supported by some of their own number? It would be very embarrassing to have Democrats accusing Democrats of causing gridlock.
Wouldn't it be easier just to let the bill go to the President for a veto? Actually, using his veto power is something that could help Barack Obama look stronger.
A bigger problem Obama will have to face will be attempts to defund his programs — the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau comes to mind, along with aspects of the health care bill. When that happens — and it will — Obama will have to find ways to fight back. He will have to show some real passion, and be willing to go on the attack in the public arena.
It will be interesting to see an enlivened, energized, angry Obama. If we don't get to see that, it just will be pathetic.