In the shadows of good news and bad coming fast and furious in the waning days of election season, we are now starting to see both liberal and conservative commentators contemplating each other’s doomsday scenarios, and presenting hopeful assertions to how things could just be better the next time around. I’m already bracing for Obama to be blamed for Hurricane Sandy’s closing the NYSE for two days, and to be accused of cooking the numbers in what might be a positive jobs report coming out this Friday, just 2 business days before E-day, and already am getting riled up for when I might hear a President Romney take credit for a continuing positive economic direction that started over a year ago. Unfortunately, history doesn’t write itself, and can’t be written at all until the game is well over. I’m hoping the actual true successes of the current administration don’t just become an “if we only knew” footnote in the minds of a narrow minded electorate re-evaluating from the future.
David Brooks’ column in the NYT today is one of these attempts at looking at the good side of a result and pretend its an actual analysis of a potential scenario. He tries to imagine a world in which Obama is reelected, and then a world in which Romney is elected. In his Obama world, Obama tries to capture the momentum of the election to put forward in his words “a moderate and sensible agenda.” But he will run up against a recalcitrant House that will be much more concerned with the mid-term elections and appealing to their base than in actually working in a bi-partisan fashion to get things done. This is a continuation of the conundrum in the US where though Congress can have 11% approval ratings, approval of individual Congressmen/women by their constituents is often quite the opposite. As I wrote in a previous post, there is often a disconnect between being lauded for sticking to your guns and actually doing the professional job you were elected to do – that is, pass workable legislation. When it comes to individual representation, people somehow forget that we’re all in this thing together. It’s ironic that often these single issue voters, and their single issue Reps, are the first to trumpet the Constitution and their defense of American ideals. This Republican Congress worked quite contrary to what the plan originally was.
In Brooks’ dream, a Romney victory will actually have the better chance of getting big things done because a Democratic Senate will force him to embrace his inner moderate. He writes, To get re-elected in a country with a rising minority population and a shrinking Republican coalition, Romney’s shape-shifting nature would induce him to govern as a center-right moderate. To get his tax and entitlement reforms through the Democratic Senate, Romney would have to make some serious concessions: increase taxes on the rich as part of an overall reform; abandon the most draconian spending cuts in Paul Ryan’s budget; reduce the size of his lavish tax-cut promises.
Romney, the shape-shifter (his words) – er, I mean, the pragmatist, would be more effective than Obama the pragmatist because a Democratic Senate and unprincipled Republican President will be able to team up against a hyper-principled Conservative House, as opposed to a principled centrist Democrat re-defining the definition of insanity by banging his head repeatedly against a brick wall. In his scenario, the brick wall will have no choice but to crumble for a President Romney, over the Right’s loud objections, because to work against a President from their own party would be counterproductive.
Ok, so we as a country are supposed to listen to this analysis and enact a rear-guard action. What does any of this have to do with actual governing? Brooks’ whole analysis is extremely condescending of the electorate because it’s all about playing the margins to see how the government can be tricked into actually doing something. The funny thing about the electorate is that they never, as a whole, really want to swing one way or the other. They like it just down the middle. I expect that some of this self correction is going to happen this election, irrespective of who’s elected. “The Tea Party Monolith” might just go the way of Michelle Bachmann, former top-of-the-heat Presidential candidate, now in trouble in her home district. This might make the extreme right “patriots” even more extreme, as their fair-weather allies return to a more moderate path in self correction. But their loud voices will return to gnatty annoyances to a larger middle tired of nothing getting done. In that scenario, the extreme gets tempered, and with an Obama re-election the message being sent is time to get back to the work of actually governing. Make it happen.
So goes my own dreaming.
There’s an alternate scenario. When Bill Clinton was first elected, I remember being elated that we were finally going to get some traction – a big ideas, smart, political President working in concert with a House and Senate of his own party. Only thing was, it didn’t work out that way. Instead, the leaders in the House and Senate decided that this young Governor of a podunk small Southern state was easy to steamroll over. They were gonna tell him how it was in Washington, and that if he wanted to survive, he was going to have to do things their way. Hell, he wouldn’t even be the occupant of the White House if it weren’t for them getting him there, and now it was payback time. We all saw how that worked out. The Dems lost in the midterms to Gingrich and the “Contract for America,” the “Tea Party” of ’94, and Clinton started to have to play small ball. It was a lesson well learned, by Democrats that is, as witnessed by the cooperation between the Obama White House and Congress in the first 2 years of the administration of a neophyte President in the midst of an inherited economic collapse. But back when Bill Clinton was re-elected in ’96, all of a sudden there was more impetus for Congress and the President to work together, even as the draconian Republican nature was trying any means to derail the President personally – as opposed to legislatively. And we saw how that worked too. $79 million spent by the Republican Congress to investigate a personal moral lapse by a sitting President. Again, what did any of that have to do with governing. But for good, or ill, legislation got passed (eg. welfare reform).
Fast forward to our own times now, and I can see a nightmare where Brooks sees a dream. Mitt Romney, a former moderate sounding Governor shape-shifting to a heavily Democratic state in order to be elected, is “supported” by the Republican be-it-alls while holding their noses, and gets to fulfill his giant ambition and take possession of yet another mansion. His own dream fulfilled, he is then dictated to by the very people who reluctantly got him there. Like Clinton in ’92, he has to pay the piper. A deal with the devil is still a deal, and as the consummate businessman, Mitt honors a deal. Sometime’s that’s the price of business. If there was any indication that Romney actually led as Governor, instead of following the paths of a Democratic legislature (one of the other reasons he couldn’t really run on Health Care – it was already working it’s way though the Democratic legislature before he arrived at that mansion), one might have cause to think that now with the top job on his resume he could really step up with conviction. But there hasn’t been, rhetoric aside. And so dreaming up a scenario where Romney leads by compromising with Senate Democrats, and the “mad-as-hell Republicans” continue to hold their noses out of party discipline is all a very nice dream if you’re David Brooks. It would be a dream I would want to have if Romney does win. Instead, I dream of a shape-shifter who takes over my house, while a piper spins a tune that forces him to dance on my dream. I’m scared, Mommy.