Two stories from the public relations arm of the White House landed over the weekend. One from the New York Times, the other from the Associated Press, both discussing how the political landscape will shape up after the November 2 midterm elections. It is now a near certainty that El Presidente will face a Republican majority in the House and a much slimmer Democrat majority in the Senate. Even if the Democrats pull a Hail Mary and keep control of both houses, Obama will have far fewer allies on Capitol Hill when the new Congress is seated.
How will the post-partisan, post-racial President deal with the new landscape?
Divided government, of course, is rarely pretty, and a Republican victory would mean the end of some of Mr. Obama’s most expansive ideas, at least for now. If Democrats were frustrated pushing through their initiatives the last two years, they might soon look back at 2009 and 2010 as the glory days.
But other opportunities could open for Mr. Obama if he can take advantage, according to political specialists from across the spectrum. Either he will find a way to forge agreements with Republicans on issues like the economy, energy and education, or he may be able to play off Congress as an adversary much as Mr. Clinton did with House Speaker Newt Gingrich 15 years ago, and as Harry Truman did with the so-called Do-Nothing Congress decades before that.
The Times article also mentions this interview with Obama, in which El Presidente is quoted as saying “It may be that regardless of what happens after this election, [the Republicans] feel more responsible, either because they didn’t do as well as they anticipated, and so the strategy of just saying no to everything and sitting on the sidelines and throwing bombs didn’t work for them, or they did reasonably well, in which case the American people are going to be looking to them to offer serious proposals and work with me in a serious way.”
And from the Associated Press:
Facing the prospect of big Republican gains in Congress, President Barack Obama is sending voters a mixed message: He says he sees opportunities to work with the GOP after Election Day yet warns Washington could be consumed by gridlock if the opposition takes control.
It's a strategy based on Obama's need for voters to see him as the same politician who ran for the White House promising a new era of bipartisanship, at the same time he rallies his base to try to stave off sweeping Republican victories in the Nov. 2 midterm elections.
During a town hall meeting with young people, Obama said there are good GOP ideas, and some issues where he sees an opportunity to work with Republican lawmakers.
"My hope is that as we look forward, let's say on education or on energy, some of the things that we haven't yet finished, that we're going to have a greater spirit of cooperation after this next election," Obama said.
Just two days later, at a private fundraiser near Boston, Obama warned that the prospects of bipartisan cooperation would be slim if Republicans ran Congress. He said it would be nearly impossible for him to advance some important issues, like clean energy and education, or to achieve many of his foreign policy goals.
There’s no mixed message here, folks. Bill Clinton’s triangulation was a calculated political strategy of co-opting. The Clinton White House adopted politically popular positions held by Republicans like welfare reform and balanced budgets. Clinton’s political skills dwarf those of Obama. Clinton was a masterful manipulator with no real ideological center. Obama is an empty-suit, radical ideologue. He doesn’t have it in him to move to the right and even if he did, the professional left would skin him alive.
Another difference between the Glorious Revolution of 1994 and the 2010 midterms is that the freshman class of 2011 and the GOP veterans will make up one of the most ideologically united GOP caucuses in generations. We will still have our Olympia Snowes, Lindsey Grahams and John McCains, but the Mike Castles will be few and far between in the House. The Tea Party movement is poised to send a host of ideological puritans to Congress, and the electorate will expect its new representatives to stick to their pledges of conservatism. Clinton faced Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole. Obama will have to face John Boehner and possibly Mitch McConnel (if not John Thune).
The gist of these two stories, and of the narrative that is certain to emanate from the left after the election is that the new GOP Congress needs to work with the President. In the NY Times interview, Obama all but said that he expects them to work with him, not vice versa. It’s not gonna happen. The chances that a staunchly conservative GOP caucus is going to work with a radical ideologue on the ideologue’s policy agenda are zero. The professional left won’t let El Presidente move to the right and the Tea Party Tsunami won’t tolerate betrayal.
The result? Gridlock.
Which, if you’re viewing this from a center-right point of view, doesn’t look so bad.