Political Physics: Was a Democratic Beat Down Just the Boost President Obama Needed?

I am what some political scientists would call a “leaning” or “weak” Democrat.  This means that although I typically vote along party lines, I do not always vote along party lines.  For me it is not so much about party affiliation as it is about the issues.  Generally I do not discuss my political affiliation, but given today’s blog topic, I thought it was important in the interest of full disclosure.  So, I am a “weak” Democrat.

This past November however I voted along party lines and cast my vote for Congressman Rush Holt.  However, my vote notwithstanding, the Democrats lost the control of the House of Representatives.  Democrats lost 60 seats in the House and 6 seats in the Senate.  According to Tutor2U.Net, this loss marks “one of the largest House shake-ups of the last 50 years.”  Republicans and Tea Party members could be heard cheering around the nation. The voters had sent President Obama a clear message that they were unhappy, he had failed to meet his campaign promises and this would surely be the nail in his coffin of potential reelection.

Or would it?

I have repeatedly argued that the Democratic Party was the biggest impediment to a successful Obama Presidency.  Why?  Because people have high expectations when the same party controls both the executive office and the legislature.  We have the votes, so voters expect that campaign promises should be easily carried out.  But the fact is that has not been the case for President Obama.

As Richard Albert noted in his article, “Why the President Wins If the Democrats Lose,” on the HuffingtonPost.Com “historically, presidents have been at their strongest when their party has controlled the Congress. But not so for the current President. He might as well have faced Republican majorities in both houses of Congress because he had to stare down strong congressional opposition throughout the entirety of his first term so far.”  Just look at the back and forth between “Blue Dog” Democrats over the economic stimulus package and health care legislation. In fact, the Democratic Party has been an even bigger obstacle than Republican filibuster attempts to pass any substantial legislation over the last two years.

So what does this new Republican-controlled House and slim Democratic majority in the Senate really mean for President Obama?  Is Obama a “lame duck” just waffling until his eventual defeat in 2012?

I would argue that the President is anything but defeated and history has shown us that sometimes being forced to work outside of your own party is the best thing for a president, especially when seeking reelection.  As many people have noted all we need to do is look no further than Bill Clinton as an example.  After the Republicans swept the board in the 1994 midterms, the former president worked with the other side to pass major welfare reform and balance the budget. And then turned around and won re-election in 1996.

And I believe that President Obama is already taking a page from that playbook.

In fact, this December marked a series of wins for the President without his party being at the helm of the ship in the legislature.  In his column entitled, “Obama’s Stunning Turnaround,” on CNN.Com David Gergen notes “voters who flocked to the Republican banner seven weeks ago are probably scratching their heads, wondering, ‘Who really won in November?’ After handing the President and Congressional Democrats the worst drubbing in more than half a century, they can only watch in disbelief as President Barack Obama has reeled off a series of unexpected victories.  A new stimulus bill, repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ and now START — who would have believed that this shirt-tail session of Congress would have been so triumphant?”

I believed.  Finally, the President – because he had no choice after losing the majority in the House – stopped relying on his precious Democrats and worked with what he had.  He built up cross-party coalitions, made some sacrifices that were not always pretty, but in the end he got the job done.  I think Gergen said it best, “The net result is that President Obama regained his mojo much more quickly than anyone, including his closest advisers, might have imagined.”  Does this mean all is clear for the President’s agenda?  No.  He is still in for some serious battles as Republicans try to overturn health care, put limits on government spending, etc.  But what happened in December has shown that there is still hope for real progress with this new Congress and for an already historically successful Obama Presidency to continue.

I surmise that a Democratic beat down was just the boost that President Obama needed.  Sometimes it’s actually better to be a “weak” Democrat.