This piece is republished courtesy of TheLoop21.com, for which Goff is a political writer.
As President Obama prepares for his State of the Union Address, he faces a daunting task (to put it mildly.) We all know the political realities he's facing, but they bear repeating. According to his declining poll numbers, the American public's patience is waning, with liberals convinced that the "change" he campaigned on has not come quickly enough and conservatives convinced change has come too fast and furious. The recent loss of Ted Kennedy's Senate seat sent shockwaves through the Democratic Party and emboldened Republicans who hope it will serve as the opening shot for the next Republican Revolution, sixteen years after the last.
As many of you may recall, in 1994, two years after Bill Clinton was elected president, Republicans reclaimed the majority in the Senate as well as the House, a feat that had not been accomplished in forty years. They were propelled by widespread discontent with Democratic leadership resulting in a revolution that rippled beyond Washington, with Republicans also taking control of the majority of Governor's mansions and state legislatures for the first time in decades.
The revolution of '94 did not exactly come out of the blue. There were warning signs for Democrats along the way, including Democratic losses of the New Jersey Governor's mansion in '93, and the reaction to Bill Clinton's tumultuous first two years in office, marked in part by the backlash to his administration's efforts to make good on his campaign promise of health care reform.
With the Democratic Party reeling from recent losses of the New Jersey's Governor's mansion, and of course, the Kennedy seat, and discontent with the handling of health care reform by the Obama administration growing, the comparisons to 1994 are inevitable. I'm not the first to make them, and I certainly won't be the last.
So the million-dollar question is, what should President Obama do or say at this point to keep history from repeating itself?
Here's a novel idea. Maybe nothing.
Many idealize the Clinton presidency as the good old days of yore. Our country made an economic comeback from a recession. We enjoyed an eventual surplus and some how, some way, despite partisan wars (including a little detour known as the impeachment) things actually got done in Washington. What people seem to forget is that one of the reasons things actually got done is because of, not despite of, the Republican Revolution of 1994. (I know that some of my progressive friends are shouting "Blasphemy!" at their computer screens right about now, and my non-friends are probably reaching for tomatoes to begin throwing in my direction, but bear with me.)
Candidate Clinton campaigned not as a tried and true liberal, but as someone willing to reach across the aisle, and govern from the middle, and occasionally even a little to the right of it when necessary. (Remember, Ricky Ray Rector, the Arkansas man candidate Clinton denied clemency who was executed during the 1992 election, thus proving the candidate's tough-on-crime bonafides?)
The Republican Revolution freed Clinton of the burden of constantly living up to the Democratic base's idealized notion of his presidency, allowing him to actually execute policies that all Americans could live with, not just the ones who could threaten to hurt him in a primary. As a result, policies like welfare reform, which liberals may have hated at the time (but most Americans did not) were able to take shape. According to the Progressive Policy Institute despite the doomsday scenarios predicted by progressives, poverty reached historic lows among single parent households and children in the years following welfare reform. But the other significant outcome of the legislation, signed into law by President Clinton in 1996, is that it helped him earn re-election, mainly by helping him hold onto moderate voters.
Though saying so out loud will likely be called heresy among most of my friends, I actually do believe that another revolution (albeit on a smaller scale) could grant our current president the same freedom. Because, when it's all said and done, the ones who have beaten him up the most this past year are not the Rush Limbaughs of the world, but the impossible to please progressives.
No health care bill is good enough -- not with a Democratic controlled White House, Congress and Senate there -- who should of course be able to pass a "perfect" one. Anything short of a withdrawal in Iraq and Afghanistan is simply not good enough. Even his tone on issues affecting Black Americans is allegedly not strong enough.
But if forced to endure the realities of watching the president tussle with a GOP controlled House, his liberal critics might finally come to understand what all those weak-willed-willy-nilly pragmatists meant when they cautioned that "perfect is the enemy of good" in the health care debate (among countless other debates.)
So maybe the president should hope for a few Democratic losses in 2010. The end result could become the key to victory for him in 2012, but more importantly the key to something finally getting done during his administration, besides widespread inter and intra, party bickering.
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