[Promoted - Sean makes some good points about what kind of President Obama would likely be - Jon Henke]
If it weren't for the fact that there were so many huge issues at stake in this election -- The War in Iraq, the potential fifth solidly conservative Supreme Court justice, the expiration of the Bush tax cuts -- I'd almost be rooting for an Obama Presidency. You see, part of the problem we've had in the House and Senate over the last sixty years is that we've held the Presidency for a large chunk of them. Parties don't make progress in Congress when they hold the Presidency. In fact, the last President who left the oval office with more members of his party in Congress than he had on the day he walked into that office was Roosevelt.
Our problems among the youth are especially an outgrowth of this. My early political years included hostages in Iran, Carter's inept response to the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, and then morning in America, Gulf War I, and Clinton 1992-1994 (ie the rough years). At that point, it was pretty much predetermined that I would end up a Republican of some flavor. Carter, Mondale, and Dukakis as the template for a Democrat did not move me toward the Democratic party.
But current crop of 20-somethings remembers none of that.
If you are 25 years old, you remember Reagan the same way I remember the first half of Carter's term, which is to say, you don't. Clinton's first term is probably pretty distant for you. No, if you're 25 years old you remember Clinton getting impeached for a b.j. (yes, I know, that's not what it's about, but I'm guessing if you were 15 that's the part you paid attention to), the 2000 election recount, the greatest economy on record turning into the Bush years, Terri Schiavo, Iraq, Katrina, and the Patriot Act. In other words, among the young, the Democrats are associated with a succesful, competant, moderate President. Republicans are associated with . . . well . . . something else.
So if Obama is elected -- and I expect he will be, though I am less certain than many -- the question is "what type of President will he be." Will he be a calamity, who will help draw people to the Republican brand? Or will he be another Clinton, who continues the branding of the Democrats as the party of fiscally responsible government?
We know from Obama's agenda what the likely long-term effects of his policies will be. But they won't show up for quite some time. It will take a long time for card check legislation to result in a more heavily unionized workplace. It will take a long time for his tax hikes to eat away at the government. It will take a long time for his health care policies to choke off private insurance, leaving nothing but the government teet.
Liberal policies aren't the real danger for Obama, because he'll be out of office before they start bearing poisonous fruit. Rather the danger for him (and the opportunity for us) is the potential that, despite heavy majorities in Congress, he gets nothing good done. This is really what happened to Clinton in his first term. Despite overwhelming Democratic majorities (57-43 in the Senate, 258 Dems in the House), he failed to get major portions of his package through, such as welfare reform, health care reform, and campaign finance reform. Instead, members of Congress went into their re-elections saddled with nothing but a tax hike, midnight basketball, and gays in the military as their strong points upon which to base their re-elections.
There's a number of reasons that Obama could run into trouble getting things done. It seems pretty apparent to me, at least, that he's begun to believe his own press releases, if that wasn't already the case when he ran for Senate. I've come around to the view that he honestly believes that he can waltz in, and through sheer force of personality usher in a new progressive era in Washington. There are big things, such as his decision today to bar lobbyists from the DNC. Sayeth Obama:
Today as the Democratic nominee for president, I am announcing that going forward, thewill uphold the same standard — we will not take a dime from Washington lobbyists. We are going to change how Washington works. They will not run our party. They will not run our White House. They will not drown out the views of the American people."
Unfortunately, the party regulars seem to have eyed this warily. The DCCC has not followed the DNC's lead, nor, apparently has the DSCC. This fissure should serve as a wakeup call to the Obama campaign that it will not be easy, that his persuasive rhetoric -- which by the way, often comes across to me as flat-out condescending -- won't be enough to change the way Washington does business (one wonders how Obama plans to get Chavez, Castro, and Ahmadinejad to change their ways if he can't even get his own party's congressional committees to follow him . . . but I digress).
And there are little things, such as a joke today. It is admittedly a little joke, but often little jokes can shed tremendous light on how a candidate views things. Presented with a walking stick, Obama's response, of all things, was "if members of Congress don't pass my health care bill, I'm ready, I'll whup 'em."
You could almost hear the collective "oh really?" coming out of Jack Murtha's, Robert Byrd's and John Dingells' mouths. You see, these men are pretty important men, and they've been in Congress for a long, long time. I reckon that they will be even less impressed with the new kid telling them what kind of bills to pass as the relatively junior Van Hollen and Schumer were with him announcing that the party would abandon lobbying money.
There are a million other data points, but after a brief honeymoon, this is what I expect Obama's Presidency to devolve into: A very liberal President who is self-assured of his ability to change the way things work in Washington, feuding with a very entrenched Washington bureaucracy that wants nothing to do with it. This is the real fruit of Obama's lack of executive and/or Washington experience -- a dearth of understanding as to how to really get things done.
Throw in the fact that he'll have a house caucus with about 70 members in districts carried by George W. Bush, and (not coincidentally) 33 members with lifetime ACU scores above 30*, and 54 above 20, and we're looking at a good 2010. Either Obama will get what he wants done, in which case those 54 members will be running for re-election with decidedly more liberal voting records in districts that are still pretty conservative, or he won't. In which case, well, pass the popcorn.
*This is actually pretty significant, given the skew of ACU scores. By contrast, only 37 Republicans have lifetime ACUs below 80, and only 17 fall below 70.