July 5, 2006

Winning and losing

Let me add another twist here: do Democrats want to run Congress--and be blamed for the inevitable gridlock and investigations that would ensue--before the 2008 elections? In terms of the party's long-term interests, wouldn't they be better off letting the GOP stew in increasingly ineffective and unpopular power for the next two years? (from The New Republic)

I quote this New Republic blog entry as representative of a strain of "thinking" you'll come across in too many media outlets. There's some factual basis for this argument. Parties in power, or at least in nominal control of a branch of the U.S. government, tend to lose support. It is unusual when the winning party gets more seats at the next election. It is also true that Americans, like citizens in every other federal democracy, split their votes in the aggregate, delivering control of one chamber to one party, and the other chamber to the other. I say aggregate because there are not a huge number of people who actually vote a split ticket in the same election. It doesn't take a lot of split-ticket voters to deliver different majorities in different races. All that is to say, yes! You can make a plausible case that if the Democrats remain in the minority they'll be more likely to win the Presidency in 2008. And perhaps, perhaps, all around the growing power of the Presidency means that's more important.

But read that quote again: "do Democrats want to run Congress--and be blamed for the inevitable gridlock and investigations that would ensue."

Now, if I'm not mistaken the Republicans have attacked the Democrats for obstructionism and partisanship, and similarly ridiculous procedural behavior, while the Democrats are in the minority. You see, that's politics ... it's like war without the shooting ... Parties will attack each other. You don't avoid that by losing. If anything, a party that persistently loses is easier to attack. I've said before, and I'll say it again, if the Democrats don't win this election they'll be on their way to being like the 1990s Canadian Conservative party or the Australian Labor Party of the 1950s. Being out of power for so long becomes proof to some of the people you're not meant to be in power. Not a happy thing for a political party.

"Inevitable gridlock and investigations"? The investigations are not inevitable, a Democratic Congressional majority decide they don't want to investigate the executive branch, that's a decision they can make after they've won. Nothing inevitable about it.

Gridlock, I will concede, is inevitable if you define gridlock down as being Congress not working for the President as the Republicans seem to have done. But here's the thing. If you believe the polls, Democratic positions on major domestic issues (health, Social Security, the environment) are more popular than Republican ones. Now, see, if the Democrats won control of [a house of] Congress they could propose popular legislation that might be voted down by the other house, or vetoed (heaven forfend!) by this President. And whose fault would that be?? It's a good question, because really Congressional-Executive gridlock is everyone's equal responsibility. But the perception of responsibility, that's different, that's created by the media and by the parties efforts to put their case to the public.

After twelve years out of the majority in Congress, the Democrats need to win to demonstrate they're competitive at the national level, and then to demonstrate that they can wield power in a way the public approves of. That will do more for their 2008 chances than waiting in hope for the Republicans to become more unpopular.

Posted by eroberts at July 5, 2006 2:53 PM