Barack Obama's Worst Nightmare

Reading this post by Mickey Kaus made me realize something.

The idea of postponing health care reform–until, say, the economy improves– doesn’t seem appealing to many Democrats now. But it might soon. The problem, as Michael Goodwin’s recent column points out, is that the issues waiting in the wings–should health care leave the stage–are even worse, from the Democrats’ political perspective. Cap and trade, immigration legalization, “card check”–these are not what you’d call confidence building appetizers leading up to the main course of Obama’s presidency. Plus the Afghan War! At least a clear majority of the public wants something done about health care….It’s easy to forget that, even if Obama’s health care effort is bogging down, the effort itself still serves his presidency as a crucial time-waster, tying up Congress and giving him a reason to postpone (or the public a reason to ignore) those other divisive, presidency-killers.

It was not until after 1994 that Bill Clinton really stretched his legs. As much as Clinton had “gays in the military” and “Hillarycare” in the months before the Republican take over of Congress, he’s really known for what? Well, if we’re serious about his legacy — Kosovo, Welfare Reform, Standing Up to Newt, and Impeachment.Clinton shines as a model of what a Democratic Presidency can be when fighting against Republicans at home and in multinational coalitions abroad. Impeachment has a mixed meaning for him, but among Democrats and Independents, they typically see it as out of control Republicans and a philandering President with the President coming out looking better than the GOP.Republicans controlling Congress gave Bill Clinton a political opposition from which he could set himself a part. Clinton could be contrasted with the GOP. He could not, pre-1994, viably do that because his party controlled the White House and Congress.What is Barack Obama’s worst nightmare?Democrats keeping Congress in 2010.Look at Mickey Kaus’s list of major policy initiatives.

  • Cap and Trade
  • Card Check
  • Healthcare
  • Immigration

Now consider Fred Barnes from yesterday:

In one sense, Democrats have only themselves to blame. They set the standard for opposition during Mr. Bush’s second term. They furiously opposed everything with a Republican label on it. It worked so well that voters grew to prefer Democrats on practically every issue, including normally reliable Republican issues like taxes. A similar phenomenon is now benefiting Republicans.Yet many Republicans wince when accused of being obstructionist and “the party of no.” They shouldn’t. The willingness of the GOP to oppose is a deterrent. If Mr. Obama were to allow CIA officials who interrogated terrorists to be prosecuted he now knows what he will face: a wall of unyielding Republican opposition led by Mr. Cheney. This is bound to affect his decision.Republicans fret about alienating voters who turned against them in the past two elections. They shouldn’t. Independents are the largest bloc of these voters. By opposing Mr. Obama, especially on spending and health care, Republicans have created a mass migration of independents away from the president. They are moving the center to the right.

Right now, independent voters don’t much know what the GOP would do in control of Congress, but the independents imagine the GOP would do better than Barack Obama’s Democrats. By saying “no” without offering a plan, the GOP can seem restrained without having to lead.If the GOP controlled one or, even better for Obama, both houses of Congress, they would have to work. “No” would no longer be an option. The GOP in power would give Obama a foil by which he could look reasonable or willing to work the center. And right now, Barack Obama cannot work the center — it is neither reflective of his policy preferences nor those of his party’s Congressional leadership.Remember that with Bill Clinton polls showed the public liked his polices but loathed the man. We have the opposite phenomena with Barack Obama. The public loathes his policies and likes the man. And with his own party controlling Congress, he has no real way to present an alternative vision in contrast to something the public may like less.And let’s all be honest — if Republicans control the Senate, Grassley, Bennett, Snowe, Collins, etc. will be looking to play the role of distinguished elder statemen/women. The Senate GOP would give Barack Obama compromised versions of cap-and-trade, immigration, and healthcare. Three out of four ain’t bad.The one caveat here for Obama is that with Clinton, we know Clinton favored the “third way”. Clinton was a DLC moderate as best he could, if only for governing’s sake. For Obama, he’s lived his life in the ivory tower and, unlike Clinton, may not shine against Republican moderates who comprise the Senate GOP leadership.If Barack Obama really wants a second term, start looking for signs that he is undermining Congressional Democrats. And who would he start with? The Blue Dogs of course. They most likely have a target on their front from the GOP and their back from the White House.

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