October 29, 2010 [LINK / comment]
Democrats know how to govern?
President Obama's recent jab at the Republicans for "driving the economy into a ditch" serves to remind us of the Latin root word of govern: gubernare, which means "to steer," as in what a ship's helmsman does. Governing a nation means keeping it on a fairly steady course, avoiding the hazardous shoals from whence the sirens' tempting song of easy, false promises is often heard. It does not mean routinely blaming the other party for negative consequences, which is one of the President's bad habits.
On one hand, there is abundant evidence that the Democrats enjoy advantages in terms of governance skill, since they are the "party of government" and are increasingly associated with the intellectual and cultural elite in this country. Notwithstanding his bitter partisanship, Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman does have a good idea what he's talking about. His words carry a lot of weight among Democrats in Washington. Even many Wall Street executives -- such as Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and his mentor Robert Rubin (who served in that post under President Clinton) -- are closely affiliated with the Democrats. Then there are the top academicians, the literati, the Brookings Institution wonks, and the writers and editorialists for the New York Times and Washington Post. That's a lot of knowledge, skills, and experience upon which the Democrats can rely.
On the other hand, you have to consider who is actually leading the Democrats on Capitol Hill, and in the White House. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, the favorite whipping girl of Republicans these days, seems to be especially fond of policies that stand in direct, stark contrast to economic realities. Hearing her explain how the new health care law is supposed to work, for example, sounds as though she were a utopian flower child from Haight-Ashbury. (Her district encompasses most of San Francisco, so perhaps that shouldn't be a surprise.) One could be forgiven for thinking that she richly deserves the chorus of derision aimed at her. Her counterpart in the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid, seems a little more sensible but evidently lacks the gumption to insist that legislation be subjected to careful scrutiny by policy experts.
On the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue, meanwhile, it seems that most of President Obama's top advisers are bailing out as quickly as they can. Rahm Emanuel (chief of staff), James Jones (National Security Adviser), Peter Orszag (Director of the Office of Management and Budget), Christina Romer (chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers), Larry Summers (Director of National Economic Council) have all announced their resignations over the past few months. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is slated to leave soon, and some speculate that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may do so as well, possibly to run against Obama in 2012. Is this the typical sort of infighting that takes place between policy veterans and political hacks, or do they know something the rest of us don't know? For a far-fetched portrayal of the "White House in crisis," see survivalstation.org; hat tip to Stacey Morris.
R.I.P. moderate Dems?
In the heated, ultra-polarized political environment of today, can moderate Democrats survive? In South Dakota, which has only one congressional district, incumbent Rep. Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin is in danger of losing what had been considered a fairly secure seat for the Democrats. She has served for four terms, and has become a leading figure among moderate "Blue Dog" Democrats. You can tell her party is nervous, because they have started taking the low road, with TV ads that crudely suggest that the Republican candidate, Kristi Noem, is too risky to drive. (Noem has been cited for speeding on more than one occasion, apparently.) According to electionprojection.com, Noem currently has a lead of 4.6% over Herseth-Sandlin.
In Virginia's 9th congressional district, Rep. Rick Boucher (D) has apparently lost the lead in the polls which he had been enjoying. The challenging candidate, Del. Morgan Griffith (R), actually has a slight lead right now, but it's really too close to call; see electionprojection.com. Boucher represents a conservative part of the state, and he voted against the Democrats' health care bill; see Boucher's Web site. He has served in the House since 1983, and like Herseth-Sandlin, his seat was considered safe for the Democrats.
Last month I attended a meeting of local business leaders who came to hear Sen. Mark Warner at Cranberry's in downtown Staunton. His main purpose was to listen to the concerns of small business owners, especially with regard to how more jobs can be generated. To his credit, he acknowledged that both parties are to blame for the bleak economic situation. He tried to put in a good word for the economic stimulus measures, lamenting that they were "poorly explained," and claimed that the Small Business Administration is becoming more effective and less bureaucratic. Warner said he was one of only four Democratic Senators who voted in favor of tort reform, while eleven Republicans voted against it! He gave ample time for feedback from those who were present. I could sense Warner's discomfort at having to split hairs and carefully distance himself from President Obama and most of his fellow Democrats. He expressed big regret that the health care legislation, which he supported, did not do more to contain costs. (Well, of course it didn't!) To me, Sen. Warner seemed a bit too hopeful that information technology can rein in health care costs, but that is probably natural for someone with a background in high-tech industry. As a successful businessman, nevertheless, he knows the chilling economic effect of many of the policies being pursued by the President. Sen. Warner will be up for reelection in 2014, and even though he has a stellar reputation for competence in government and would seem to enjoy a heavy advantage right now, anything can happen over the next four years.