Politics & Media
Oct 07, 2008, 06:46AM

"An ungovernable majority"

While the prospect of a Dem-controlled House and Senate is music to, well, Dems' ears, the ideological gradations within the Democratic Party might hamper the liberal agenda as much as help it.

Generalized voting records can be tricky. Barack Obama is, as all Democratic Pary Presidential nominees are, "the most liberal member in the Senate." As Obama pointed out in the first debate, it's pretty easy to be liberal when you're constantly voting opposite of George W. Bush.

"For one, while the Democrats have been ascendant in recent years, they have entered into a Faustian bargain," Mark Hemingway, of the National Review, wrote. "They’re gaining seats, but in doing so they’ve made compromises which have resulted in the creation of an ungovernable majority."

Hemingway quotes a post from The New Right, which combed through the American Conversative Union's rankings (out of 100) of Democratic Party congressmen:

Its most conservative member is Tom Barrow. HIS ACU is lifetime is 47, and has gone as high as 76 last year (well into the Republican caucus). 15 in is John Tanner, who still has a lifetime ACU of 43. Go in 45, and you find Congressman Costello, whose lifetime ACU is 34. Go another 20 in, to 65, and you’re at Congressman Ortiz, whose lifetime ACU is 33. You’re now a little less than 1/3 of the way into the Democratic caucus, and you have a member who votes with the ACU about 1/3 of the time.

Now, a left-leaner might be inclined to argue that you can't disagree with a Republican majortity and Republican president all the time, but Hemingway's crucial argument is the—guess what—bailout bill:

Given that Republicans are ideologically predisposed against massive socialist interventions in financial markets, their vote was hardly a surprise. However, 95 Democrats also voted against a bill that failed by 12 votes. Pelosi couldn’t rustle up an extra 12 votes out of 95? Some of this is naturally attributable to Pelosi’s general incompetence — when it comes to wrangling up votes, Pelosi is no Tom Delay. But the reality is that the Democratic caucus is so conservative, Pelosi wasn’t in a position to tell many Democrats, especially Southern Dems and those inhabiting recently captured Republican seats in conservative districts, that they had to vote for it.

The author has a point. Sort of. Repulicans are more ideological bound than Democrats. But he doesn't point out that the majority of members who voted against the bailout are running reelection campaigns. Incumbency trumps ideology.

Let's assume, for a moment, that not only will we have a President Barack Obama but also a 60-member Democratic Party majority in the Senate—read: filibuster proof. That might not be as yellow-brick-roadish as one might think. A filibuster-proof majority could effectively put the screws to its own President. Some of the most boring and most important moments of the Democratic primary debates were the parsing of specific health care policy. What if the Senate thinks it can craft a better univeral (or almost universal) health care plan than Obama?

I don't think such an out-liberalling will happen. But Hemingway's argument may pan out: Obama's Democratic-controlled Congress might not be the most liberal the world has yet seen. And that would be just fine for Obama, who will have the room—one hopes—to reach agreements that speak to a broader range of economic, policy and political issues than a stereotypical runaway liberal government.

  • "Incumbency trumps ideology." Very, very true. A lot of people don't get that. What do you mean when you say a "stereotypical runaway liberal government," though?

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  • What I meant was that the government won't start hemorrhaging money for every social program in existence and dream up new ones and cut all the money from the military and farm babies for stem cells...

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  • Yikes! That does sound bad. Hopefully the Wachowski brothers won't run for any kind of office and we can avoid that kind of a world.

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  • Let's be realistic: An Obama presidency enhanced by a filibuster-proof Senate majority and expanded majority in the House, might have some squabbles, but a LOT of what Obama wants will get done, especially during the "honeymoon" phase. Mark Hemingway is kidding himself about the "Faustian bargain." Obama's a very smart and somewhat idealistic candidate, but he's a tough politician and will be running for reelection starting on Jan. 21. That says to me he'll want to make his mark in the first year, especially on national health insurance, which is the worst nightmare for conservatives.

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