Over the past week I’ve been making the case that the reason Barack Obama won the election, and won significantly, was that he offered in one clear package a presidency that offered to break completely with the Bush presidency of the last 8 years. The principal components of this package: competence, temperament, hope, and policies that were generally acceptable to the electorate. Put another way, Barack Obama was the antithesis of George Bush and that, more than anything else, was what the voters were looking for last week – CHANGE. McCain couldn’t come close having chosen to abandon the center and keep his right wing happy, a right wing which still adores George Bush. As I noted in my post yesterday –Weekend Roundup – Some Reagan-Obama Similarities, Obama’s challenge will be to steer a relatively middle-of-the-road course and not let the Democrat-dominated House and Senate pursue an overly liberal agenda. I am not saying that Obama should give up on health care and certain other promised “liberal” reforms. Especially on the high profile issue of health care reform, Obama promised it and he must follow through. But what Obama must avoid is a Congress that passes every item on the liberal special interest wish list. I also believe the selection of Rahm Emanuel was probably a very good choice to help insure this doesn’t happen.
So in a sense what I’m arguing is that Barack Obama will be wise to govern as though he has a more divided government that he actually has. Although not yet settled, it is looking like Obama will not have a filibuster-proof Senate (60 votes). Let that be viewed as a blessing in disguise, a manifestation of divided government that will in the long run do Obama (and the country) more good than harm. This is because the one thing Obama has to fear is a voter backlash in 2010 and 2012 that puts Republicans back in control of the House and/or Senate.
An overly “progressive” agenda that provides a check mark by every item on the liberal special-interest wish list could make this a reality. Our country is clearly largely a center right nation and the electorate will be offended by an overly liberal agenda. A very valuable piece to reference on this is contained on the weblog, Divided We Stand, United We Fall and is entitled 2010 and 2012 Election Prologue – The Road Back. The author, a strong advocate for divided government, takes a thorough look at the next two election cycles and suggests that it is unlikely that Republicans can stage a comeback in 2010 but that it is quite possible in 2012. The only point I’d add to his analysis is that this all depends on how Obama and the Democrats govern. If they govern in relatively moderate fashion, I agree that 2010 is unlikely to see any change in Democratic control of the House and Senate. 2012 is any one’s guess. However, anything is possible if Obama and the Democrats govern as liberals with a mandate.
Also supporting my general theory on this is an Op-ed by Alan Ehrenhalt, the editor of Governing Magazine, in the New York Times today. It is entitled Will Obama’s Congress Be Too Friendly? It is a worthwhile-read. Here’s an excerpt:
All of this suggests that, to escape the fate of Messrs. Carter and Clinton, Barack Obama needs to preserve the centrist image he cultivated during the campaign; to reinforce the personal good will that both parties genuinely seemed to feel for him on election night; to avoid letting impatient Democratic majorities tempt him into pushing initiatives that the electorate won’t support; and still somehow emerge with a record of accomplishment that bears some resemblance to the promises he made all over the country this fall.
I couldn’t agree more. Stiving for bi-partisan support wherever possible and in essence governing as though there was a divided government will help insure that Obama’s legacy will be a successful one. Of course there are a myriad of other factors with which Obama will have to successfully contend if he is to “succeed”. I am hopeful, however, that if he charts a relatively centrist path Barack Obama otherwise possesses the skills to be a great leader and president.