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November 6, 2006

what to do with a majority

There is a raging debate about how the Democrats should use a House majority, if they win one on Tuesday. On the left, some are framing the question as whether the Democrats will have the "courage" to tackle the Bush administration by conducting high-profile, aggressive investigations. (See comments here, or Paul Krugman.) In my view, it would take no "courage" at all to yield the House agenda to Henry Waxman and his investigations of procurement scandals and the like. "Courage" would mean passing a just budget or a bill to reduce Americans' consumption of coal and oil. But that would require focus, discipline, time in committees and on the floor of Congress, public attention and support, and partnerships with key congressional Republicans. If Democrats try to drive all the public attention to scandals, they will have no chance of pushing really significant legislation through the House.

Regardless of what happens on Tuesday, conservatives can be basically satisfied with the fundamentals of American politics. Politicians of both parties are embarrassed to mention raising taxes, even if the alternative is to borrow money from the next generation. None of them seriously wants to cut the incarceration rate or end the war on drugs. They are almost all afraid to criticize the military brass for anything it might do.

If I were a conservative, I would be hoping that a Democratic Congress would concentrate on the malfeasance of the Bush administration. In the worst case (from my imaginary conservative perspective), the Dems would uncover some really bad behavior that Americans dont already know about. Fine--in that case I would join the Democrats in outrage against Bush and back a new set of Republican leaders in 08. All the fundamentals would still be in place.

In the best case (again from a conservative perspective), the Democrats would find nothing startlingly new, would waste two years, and would reinforce a reputation for lacking vision and competence.

My biggest fear, if I were a conservative, would be that the Democrats would largely ignore Bush and pass a series of smart, aggressive, progressive bills to help working families, ameliorate the sitation in the Middle East, strengthen education, and tackle oil dependence. Then my guys would have to filibuster or veto good bills, or else allow them to pass and thereby move the country somewhat leftward. By 08, Democrats would have a reputation for vision and competence and my side would be in real trouble.

I'll bet that the Democrats will not allow investigations to dominate their agenda or the news coverage, because they understand the need to look competent and forward-looking. They know that Bush is already history. However, I'll also bet (sadly) that they will fail to pass courageous, progressive legislation, precisely because public opinion is still basically conservative on fiscal questions, and liberals haven't figured out how to change that.

(See Rich Harwood's "Election Day hubris" for a related point.)

November 6, 2006 7:50 AM | category: revitalizing the left | Comments


From a political standpoint, the goal of the Democratic House is simply to drive home the point, "Republicanism is Bushism". Investigations will likely focus on politically easy targets, such as Halliburton and other private defense contractors. One might hope that there would be hearings—not investigations, but hearings— on the new Army counterinsurgency manual and whether or not it shows the Army has learned the right lessons from Iraq. This would be both good policy and help give the Democrats some national security credibility.

From a policy perspective, most observers suggest Democrats will pursue a broadly popular agenda. Raise the minimum wage, fix Medicare Part D, lower student loan rates, etc.

The wildcard is what happens if investigations and hearings lead to a constitutional crisis, where the White House refuses to surrender documents or provide testimony.

November 6, 2006 12:50 PM | Comments (1) | posted by Nick Beaudrot

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