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By Anonymous Mike, pseudonymously.

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Thursday, November 6, 2008
Catching the Car

Now that they occupy and control both House of Congress (not to mention within spittin' distance of 60 votes in the Senate), the Democrats are the dogs who now have caught the car. Now they have to decide what they want to do with it.

If I was a Democrat, I would be concerned.

Let's look beyond the momentary euphoria over the election of Senator Obama and look at what may transpire come January. We don't have to get into the deep and hidden motives of the President-elect to see the strains that will soon become evident among the Democrats.

First is divide between the White House and Congress. It bears repeating that we live in a republic with separate branches of government, not a parliamentary democracy where the legislature falls in line behind the executive, and there is a rich history of a newly elected presidents seeing their ambitious agendas run aground on Capitol Hill. To top it, the Congressional Democrats seized their majorities before Obama and if anything helped pave the way for him, not vice versa.

Second is the divide between the Democrats' liberal and moderate tendencies. Don't laugh about the latter because it's only through crafting appeals to centrists that the Democrats have the ability to win national elections. On the other hand, the leaders among the Congressional Democrats mostly come from fairly blue states or pretty safe seats; they can more safely indulge in liberal tendencies than a President Obama who has to build a national coalition. Put it this way, Barney Frank and Nancy Pelosi aren't going to lose their House seats because they are too liberal. In fact all indications are that the Congressional Democrats are going on a liberal bender come January seeing their control as a mandate for "transformation."

Now I think given these 2 divides and add in the fore-mentioned belief that the Congressional Democrats will provide a liberal motor to the agenda, you will see alot of over-reaching. I could be very wrong on this but my guess is that the Obama campaign was very aware of the center-right nature of the electorate which is why it ran on themes of change from President Bush, vague promises of solving the health care crisis, and middle-class tax cuts rather than say income redistribution and a single payer system. My guess is that they weren't too suprised that true-blue California voted to ban gay marriage. I think the Obama campaign knew that there was no mandate for large-scale liberal change, but that won't stop alot of people from trying.

Third, the Senator being all things to all people. Last week, Mr. Obama was running for office promising the moon and the stars in order to get elected. This week he is the President-elect wondering how he's going to implement all of those promises. You see it every presidential election, alot of excitement between election night and the inaguration as the new administration provides not only fresh faces but the excitement and total vagueness of becoming. Then the new gang finally has to make decisions and the honeymoon begins to end. There are alot of people, alot of groups who are holding chits on the Obama Administration and they are going to start coming in... not only is there not enough political or financial capital to fulfill all those promises but many of those promsies are contradictory. More than a few of those groups holding chits are getting thrown under the bus.

Fourth, I think the media honeymoon will end. Once again I could be very wrong about this and the terrible bias the media showed this past election cycle may have fundamentally transformed its gestalt. However for several generations, the media has treasured its self-proclaimed role as an informal branch of government that speaks truth to power. Much like Congress, its members may share sympathies with the White House but it also likes its independence and I think the media will find some way of demonstrating that it is not a complete lap dog for the Obama Administration. I don't expect them to after the President himself or even the past campaign fraud issues, but perhaps taking down a cabinet officer or if there is serious blood in the water over getting the legislative agenda through, stories about the White House staff.

All the above issues deal with the normal problem of trying to transform an electoral coalition into a governing coalition. The basic mechanics are pretty straight-forward, how devestating it will all prove to an Obama Administration remains to be seen but expectations are so high and so out of whack that the phenomena looks more like a speculative bubble than anything I have seen in politics.

The fifth strain deserves its own post all together. Fifty years ago, when Harold Macmillan assumed the British premiership he was asked by a journalist what was most likely to blow his government off course and he said "Events dear boy, events."

More on that tomorrow, but for now if you are a Democrat enjoy this moment because this will be as good as it gets.