So how is the President affected by his party losing control of one body of congress? Much less than many observers might think. In fact, it just might be a big boost for the Obama reelection effort. Here’s why. The time for blaming the Bush Administration for all the country’s woes has long passed. In the past two year cycle, Obama has had a democratically controlled congress to follow his lead. And the public response has been far from favorable.
In politics, it helps to have an enemy. Look at my home state governor in Louisiana. The state is facing major budget cuts and there has been little progress in many areas begging reform – and yet, Jindal’s popularity stays high. He has built his national reputation on beating up on the federal government’s response to the Gulf oil spill, and the dolling out of federal stimulus spending. Yes, Jindal took all the dough from Washington, and effectively had it both ways. But he found the bad guy, and he has been relentless in making the feds a foil.
Under the leadership of next year’s new Republican speaker John Boehner, Obama will now have his bad guy. The President will have someone to blame for the lack of any congressional action over the next two years, leading right up to his reelection efforts in 2010. Divided government may not be all that pretty, but hey, we’re talking politics here.
Some political observers even make the argument that if the Republicans would capture both the House and the Senate, the reelection chances of the President go up even more. Harry Truman was able to prey on what he called “the Republican controlled Do Nothing Congress” back in 1948 to win reelection.
In his book “The Pact,” History Channel historian Steven Gillon analyzed how the Republican takeover of congress by the Republicans in 1994 actually helped Bill Clinton get re-elected. “The Republican victory in 1994 saved the Presidency,” writes Gillon, “because it freed him from the liberal wing of his party and allowed him to become nimble and flexible, which he’s brilliant at. And it forced the Republicans to develop a governing philosophy. A campaign slogan may get you through Election Day, but it doesn’t help you solve these very difficult problems.”
Can you believe the New York Times story last week reporting that it took Obama 18 months before he invited Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell to the White House for a head to head visit? Unlike Bill Clinton, Obama is no schmoozer. But that’s all part of the process of getting things done. Former Republican Majority Leader Trent Lott once told me at a wedding reception for Louisiana Senator John Breaux that Clinton communicated regularly. “He’d call middle of the day or middle of the night. I’d go up to the family quarters and have coffee with him at 9:15 in the morning.”
Is there room for a third party to emerge as the 2012 presidential election draws near? Many voters think so. In last week’s national Rasmussen poll, 43% of likely voters believe that neither Democrats nor Republicans in Congress are the party of the American people, and a surprising 38% think both parties are so much alike that an entirely new party is needed to represent the American People. And in the same poll, 38% of likely voters say they think it is at least somewhat likely that a third party candidate will be elected president of the United States within the next 10 years.
The majority of Tea Partiers will be sucked into the Republican Party, but many independents feel they have no options or political place to go. Neither party has much appeal to them. They see congressional Democrats cowering with the slogan “I didn’t do it.” As one pundit observed: “The story from many Democrats now is that they were all smoking in the boy’s room when Obama ran over to the capitol building and passed all these God-awful bills. And the Republicans? They all talk about Mom and apple pie, and they campaign in togas made out of American flags.”
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire who spent $102 million on his reelection campaign last year, seems genuinely interested in running. He would be an appealing candidate for many independents. I posed the question of a presidential run to Bloomberg at a conference in Washington a few weeks ago. He just smiled.
His candidacy could also be the deathblow to an Obama reelection effort. One scenario is that Bloomberg runs and carries a number of normally Democratic states like Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut and possibly Florida. With no major candidate receiving a majority of electoral votes, the election is thrown to the House of Representatives. With a certain Republican takeover of the House, you can see the outcome. No wonder there is so much interest in who will get the Republican nomination. There is no secret here in Louisiana as to why our Governor, Bobby Jindal, is crisscrossing the country on behalf of Republican congressional and gubernatorial candidates.
Will a new political dynamism come out of Tuesday’s election results? Don’t count on it. Look for a few bipartisan stabs to at least jointly discuss some of the front burner issues that have stagnated any genuine effort to act boldly. Change has been little more than a slogan over the past 10 years. It’s going to take a 2012 national presidential referendum to redefine the goals of the country, and to get this huge contraption called democracy jump started again.
The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter. Sir Winston Churchill
Peace and Justice.
Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers and websites throughout the South. You can read all is past columns and see continuing updates at www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownusa.com. The show is televised at http://www.justin.tv/jimbrownusa.