The Party of Finger-Pointing
posted at 10:37 am on November 16, 2010 by Slublog
It was the 1880s, and Woodrow Wilson was depressed.
The academic had not seen his party hold the White House since the 1860s. Since the end of the Civil War, the Democrats had been in the political wilderness. Wilson was a Ph.D. candidate in history and political science, so he decided to do some soul searching to discover why the Democratic party had lost the support of the American people. The results of his research?
The Democrats weren’t wrong…the government was just broken..
We are the first Americans to hear our own countrymen ask whether the Constitution is still adapted to serve the purposes for which it was intended; the first to entertain any serious doubts about the superiority of our own institutions as compared with the systems of Europe; the first to think of remodeling the administrative machinery of the federal government, and of forcing new forms of responsibility upon Congress.
This is a familiar refrain, often sung by the Democrats: our policies aren’t the problem – those who wrote the founding documents of this country created a system that is just too darn hard for a president or Congress to negotiate. So, so unfair.
Then Democrat Grover Cleveland was elected president, and suddenly…Wilson regained his faith in the American system. America was governable again! Sixteen years later, Wilson was elected president and promptly forgot every political theory he once espoused. Out? Cynicism about the government. In?
Fascism progressive government.
It was April 1980, and Lloyd Cutler was depressed.
The counsel to President Jimmy Carter had watched Congress and the American people turn on the president he served. Like Wilson, he decided to do some soul searching to discover why the Democratic party had lost support. The results of his research?
A particular shortcoming in need of a remedy is the structural inability of our government to propose, legislate, and administer a balanced program for governing. In parliamentary terms one might say under the U.S. Constitution it is not now feasible to ‘form a government.’ The separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches, whatever its merits and 1793, has become a structure that almost guarantees stalemate today. As we wonder why we are having such a difficult time making decisions we all know must be made and projecting our power and leadership, we should reflect on whether this is one big reason.
Shockingly, Cutler lost his cynicism by 1994, when he served as counsel to President Bill Clinton.
It is 2010, and here we are again.
A young Democrat president who ran on a platform of hope and change just had his domestic policies repudiated by the American people in a midterm election. His recent diplomatic efforts have not been successful. Once again, the opportunity to do some soul searching and discover why the Democrats have lost favor with the American people presents itself. A national political reporter researches the issue. His conclusion?
The issue is not President Obama. The presidency is just too darned hard.
Can any single person fully meet the demands of the 21st-century presidency? Obama has looked to many models of leadership, including FDR and Abraham Lincoln, two transformative presidents who governed during times of upheaval. But what’s lost in those historical comparisons is that both men ran slim bureaucracies rooted in relative simplicity. Neither had secretaries of education, transportation, health and human services, veterans’ affairs, energy, or homeland security, nor czars for pollution or drug abuse, nor televisions in the West Wing constantly tuned to yammering pundits. They had bigger issues to grapple with, but far less managing to do. “Lincoln had time to think,” says Allan Lichtman, a professor of history at American University. “That kind of downtime just doesn’t exist anymore.”
So the issue is that Obama doesn’t have any downtime?
This is an unfortunate pattern for the Democrat party. They have repeatedly refused to engage in any meaningful self-reflection in defeat. Their losses are far too often blamed on anything other than their own failure to govern in a way that reflects the will of the American people. When their policies are rejected by voters, the country suddenly becomes ‘ungovernable’ or the presidency becomes too much for one person to accomplish. To the latter argument, I offer a simple rebuttal:
Ronald Reagan somehow found the time to run the country and deal with the Soviet threat, and survived an assassination attempt. His was not an easy presidency, but it was, overall, a successful one. When Reagan was in office, the president never asked whether the job was too hard, or whether the country had become ungovernable. They didn’t have to.
The presidency is a difficult job and this country demands quite a bit from its presidents. Perhaps it is time for the Democrats to demand more from their candidates.