‘Apres le delug’ — a liberated Obama?
If the Democrats lose the House and lose seats in the Senate, there may be a ray of sunshine out of the bad news for President Obama.
This is not just making chicken salad out of chicken-you-know-what; history shows that a president forced to deal with the opposition party in Congress can actually end up more successful and more popular.
Remember President Clinton’s experience post-1994 deluge. He was disappointed for a while, but then he found he was, in many ways, liberated from following the agenda of the most liberal base of his party, which tends to dominate debates in at least the House Democratic Caucus and to a lesser extent the Senate.
President Clinton was forced to work with, and at times painfully forced to compromise with, the Gingrich-led House Republicans and a Senate Republican majority.
The result of Bill Clinton being forced to sit down with Republicans and work out compromises was a balanced budget, a $1 trillion surplus and a 65 percent job approval rating on Jan. 20, 2001 — his last day in office. And that approval rating occurred despite (or maybe in part because of) what I still believe was an illegitimate and hyper-partisan impeachment vote in the House (but acquittal in the Senate, where House Republican impeachment managers couldn’t even muster a majority of the 55-vote Republican Senate).
So don’t be surprised that, if the Democrats lose the House or — God forbid — the Senate too this November 2010, the end result could be a boon and gift of independence for President Barack Obama from following, or at least being heavily influenced by, Democratic congressional majorities — and the liberal blogosphere and organizations such as MoveOn, which hammered him over the last two years for not being liberal enough. (Who can forget former party chairman Howard Dean at one point opposing passage of a healthcare bill unless there was a public option? I favored a public option but always felt only those with health insurance could afford to take Gov. Dean’s position; very few of the 33 million uninsured poor and middle-class people would prefer no insurance at all than a bill with guaranteed insurance. And that intransigent demand from the left for a public option, reflected in the House version of the healthcare bill, in my judgment contributed to months of unnecessary delay in passing the bill and effectively explaining it — and selling it — to the American people, who to this day still don’t fully understand and appreciate its simple concepts.)
The day after the November 2010 congressional elections, if the Democrats lose the House and substantial seats in the Senate — and, just so I don’t go through the kill-the-messenger attack experienced by presidential secretary Robert Gibbs when he suggested that possibility, let me make it clear that I hope that doesn’t happen, and am not yet convinced it will — President Obama should immediately invite to the White House Senate and House Republican leaders, and legislators with a history of working across the aisle, such as Republican Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Orrin Hatch (Utah) and Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden (Ore.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Mark Pryor (Ark.) and Tom Carper (Del.), as well as Independent Democrat Joe Lieberman (Conn.), and ask them:
Give me your proposals to create new jobs, achieve energy independence and reform abuses in the tort law system, and improve public education — and let’s write legislation — together — finding something we all can support.
In other words, President Obama can return to and actually practice the approach to governance that was the core message of his campaign and contributed mightily to his victory in 2008. I am paraphrasing from his memorable 2004 keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention:
There is not a red America or a blue America, but rather, a United States of America.
So out of the deluge, if there is one, President Obama may be able to convince the Republicans, who are no longer the opposition party and now might be blamed for the country’s unsolved economic and social problems and the budget deficits: It’s time to put aside hyper-partisan politics and get back into the solutions business. Join me — and I will meet you more than halfway.
If you do, I believe it is both the right politics and, most of all, right for the country.
Lanny Davis is the founder of the Washington D.C. law firm, Lanny J. Davis & Associates, which specializes in litigation, legal crisis management, and legislative and public policy strategies. He served as Special Counsel to President Clinton in 1996-98 and as a member of President Bush’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. He is the author of “Scandal: How ‘Gotcha’ Politics Is Destroying America” (Palgrave MacMillan, 2006).