Monday, June 07, 2010

Is Obama rooting for the Republicans?

You'd never hear the president admit it, but there is (recent) historical precedent to suggest he would be better off if the GOP tears it up in the November election.

Conservative columnist Fred Barnes notes that Republican control of either the House or Senate (or both) would compel President Obama to accept spending cuts and move to the political middle.

Gone would be the big-spending impulses of the Democratic-controlled Congress. (So, too, would the unfortunate, in my opinion, rhetoric from the left that the president has been too willing to accommodate the moderates and conservatives on the political spectrum.)

Mr. Barnes correctly notes that one of the reasons President Clinton was able to breeze to re-election in 1996 was that he was seen as a check against a powerful Republican Congress. A somewhat similar scenario could be put in Mr. Obama's lap in January. He would then have two years to convince the public that without him in the White House, the country would move too far to the right. (Echoes of a Bush presidency, anyone?)

I've been fascinated over the past 18 months seeing how a Democrat president and a Democrat-controlled Congress have not worked together. It hasn't surprised me, and it has reinforced that the Executive and the Legislative branches are inherently at tension with each other.

Rutgers political science professor Ross Baker is among the elite in his field, and he has argued in many publications and elsewhere that the president views the country as a whole while each member of Congress sees it through the lens of his/her district or state. As a result, the preferences of one is never guaranteed to be the preference of the other.

For another view on the relationship between the White House and Capitol Hill, consider this column by long-time Indiana Congressman Lee Hamilton.

I think the most germane excerpt is this one:

The relationship between Congress and the President lies at the very core of our system of government, and, under our Constitution, tension and struggle between these rivals for power is inevitable. A democracy without conflict is not a democracy. The framers did not set out to promote gridlock between President and Congress, but they did intend that conflicting opinions in society should be considered carefully before government takes action.

There's another reason the president might need Republican success this November to bolster his resume for 2012: the notion of Obama as reformer.

You'll recall "change we can believe in" being the rallying cry of his 2008 campaign. Let's be blunt -- he's not delivered on that. Justifiably worried, Democrats are urging President Obama to eliminate that message and turn instead to making clear the differences between the parties as the November midterm elections grow ever closer.

If this president can't bring about change with the people from his own party, there's no guarantee he'd be able to bring it about with members of the opposition running one or both branches of Congress.

But you wonder if the president might want to give it a shot.

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