09/14/2010 06:13 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Surviving a Republican Congress

Political forecasters Charlie Cook and Stu Rothenberg both recently predicted that the Republicans are likely to win forty or more House seats in the midterm elections. While two months is an eternity in politics, it is worth considering what Republican control of the House would mean.

First and foremost, it will mean that Republicans will finally have to take some responsibility for governing the country. The 1994 Republican takeover emboldened Newt Gingrich and the conservative crowd to throw their weight around with the Contract with America, followed by the ill-advised decision to shut down, albeit temporarily, the entire federal government. As a result, President Clinton's approval ratings shot up as the Republicans' ratings tanked.

We can fully expect the Republicans to continue their stonewalling and obstructionism -- and probably even ramp it up with the addition of newer Republican House members drinking the Tea Party Kool-Aid. If they take over the House, they will not only be able to block President Obama's initiatives, but also launch their own agenda, which will undoubtedly include everything from repealing health care reform to gutting social programs. However, if the Republicans use their veto in the House to try to turn back the clock by eviscerating Medicare or Social Security, cutting unemployment or veterans benefits, or stripping funds from education or the state budgets, they could certainly face a wrathful public.

What would all this mean for the Obama White House? This administration came into office facing the worst economic downturn in eighty years, and, as a result, a sizeable chunk of the public has turned against Obama and the Democratic party. However, the public has certainly not morphed into big fans of the Republican party either. The populist sentiment now sweeping the nation -- as in times past -- is aimed at both parties and their leaders. The outcry from both the left and right is for a change in the political culture, which is besotted with money from special interests, relies on rigged electoral districts and is myopic about social changes in the country.

The reality is that, even with the populist hue and cry, around ninety percent of House incumbents will be re-elected (down from the usual 95% or more) and it will be back to business as usual, which means a virtual stalemate. If the House is controlled by the Republicans, an even more serious deadlock will ensue as Republicans continue to stonewall the White House. If the economic recovery stalls out, this will put Obama in an even tougher position than FDR was in the midst of the Depression, when the Democrats had large majorities in the House and Senate.

What the president can do -- as FDR did when he encountered resistance both inside and outside his own party -- is to go over the head of the politicians to the American public. Although Obama has made lots of speeches and appeared frequently in public, the message has often been muted or confused. Like FDR, Obama would benefit by aggressively attacking his opponents on their policies -- whether it is cutbacks in Social Security or Medicare or extremist proposals like repealing the Fourteenth Amendment.

The Republican party, which is now driven by the radical viewpoints of Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, should be vehemently called out by the president on their specific proposals to turn back the clock to a more intolerant and crueler America that persecuted minorities, demonized religious groups and left the old and disabled to suffer on their own. A more aggressive and focused message from the president is not only a good campaign strategy for the midterms but also is a stronger approach to governing, whether the Republicans take over the House or not.