Why a Republican House will make Obama a better president
If you are a Barack Obama supporter — as I am — you should be glad the House of Representatives is changing to Republican. For this is likely to make Obama a better president.
Bill Clinton was ineffective in the first two years of his presidency, with Capitol Hill debacles on health care and the forgotten BTU tax. Then Clinton’s party lost the House in 1994: and his performance as president began to improve.
Sure, there was some kind of fuss between the White House and the House regarding somebody named Monica. But all of Clinton’s signature achievements — welfare reform, the Good Friday Agreement, conversion of federal deficits into surpluses, the Camp David summit — came after the Democrats lost the House.
Once the Democrats no longer had full control of Congress, Clinton no longer could spend his time mediating disputes among the party’s interest groups – disputes regarding the various handouts and special deals various factions were demanding. Clinton needed to broaden his appeal and leadership style, plus acquire genuine concern for his opponents’ positions. He went from being president of the Democrats to president of the nation.
Losing the House was essential to the maturation of Clinton’s presidency. The same can happen for Barack Obama.
So far, President Obama has devoted most of his time and energy to trying to be leader of the always-complaining, always-hands-outstretched internal factions of the Democratic Party. For Democrats to hold the White House, Senate and House, plus have two fresh appointments to the Supreme Court, arguably has made Obama less effective than he otherwise might have been.
Open squabbling over giveaways — the $800 billion stimulus bill might have been called Interest Groups Spoils of Victory Act of 2009 — has made the Democrats look foolish. Possessing near-total control of Washington, Obama’s party nonetheless has made wacky claims of conspiracies against it. Nancy Pelosi’s assertion that “secret money” beholden to mysterious foreign powers is really running the U.S. government is the daffiest thing anyone’s said in years, but hardly the only contention along these lines. Losing the House of Representatives should cause the White House, and at least some Democrats, to get their feet back on the ground.
Obama needs to become the leader of all Americans. As happened with Clinton, this will require broadening his leadership style and finding genuine concern for his opponents’ views and positions.
In a democracy, steamrolling the opposition may work once in a while, but cannot be a basis of governing. Consensus must be sought. Losing the lower chamber of Congress means the White House can’t steamroll any more – and this will be good for the Obama presidency.
Millions of Americans agree with and like President Obama — but millions also don’t. Obama needs to come to terms with that, and show that he cares just as much about his opponents as about his party’s interest groups.
Barack Obama is the most gifted natural leader since Ronald Reagan — who also stumbled and struggled in his first two years as president, and who also took a shellacking, in terms of losing House seats, in his first national election while president, which in Reagan’s case was in 1982.
Clinton in 1994, and Reagan in 1982, woke up and realized they needed to become president of everyone. Both grew in empathy, and improved as leaders, as a result. The same can happen for Obama.
Election postscript 1:
There was obvious voter anger about the cost and bureaucratic-nightmare aspects of ObamaCare. Since most of the reform has not yet taken effect, consensus-seeking amendments to the legislation could improve health care reform — as long as Republicans are sincere in saying they want to improve the reform, rather than just use the issue as a political battering ram.
But bear in mind –– hardly any of the benefits of ObamaCare have been felt. Voters are very aware of the costs and red tape — they haven’t yet experienced the benefits. Once they do, even most Republicans may conclude that Obama mainly was right about health care. Fixing the “preexisting conditions” fault of health insurance, for instance, is a tremendous reform that will spread benefits across all social and income classes.
Election postscript 2:
Have Republican leaders even read the health care reform bill they denounce? The party’s pre-election Pledge to America says of the Republican agenda, “We will make it illegal for an insurance company to deny coverage to someone with prior coverage on the basis of a pre-existing condition, eliminate annual and lifetime spending caps, and prevent insurers from dropping your coverage just because you get sick.” All these points are already covered by Obama’s legislation!
Election postscript 3:
The big question about incoming Tea Party types is, what exactly will they cut? It is hard to imagine tackling the deficit without cuts in Social Security and Pentagon spending. So far no Tea Party senator- or representative-elect has offered anything even remotely specific about how the deficit might be pared. It’s a lot easier to denounce than to govern.
Republican Jim DeMint, a Tea Party favorite just re-elected to his second term in the Senate, said on Meet the Press on Sunday that reductions in Social Security and Pentagon spending won’t be required because “we can cut hundreds of billions of dollars a year at the federal level” by eliminating “administrative waste.” If DeMint knows of “hundreds of billions of dollars a year” — this is about the same as Medicare spending — in “administrative waste,” how come he never moved to do anything about it during his first six years in the Senate?
Photo: REUTERS/Lucas Jackson