Obama, in this fanciful version, held up his hand. He told his aides to put away the history books and reject the New Deal comparisons. Unlike in 1932, Americans today have a raging distrust of Washington, he observed. Living through a crisis caused by excessive debt, they will viscerally recoil at the prospect of federal debt without end. “Somehow,” Obama concluded, “we have to address the crisis without further terrifying the American people.”…
Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic committee chairmen were upset. For decades they’d been storing up spending proposals. This was their chance to pass them all. The president told the House speaker that she would get many of her priorities, but not in a 100-day rush. Privately, Democratic aides developed a political strategy they called Save Nancy From Herself…
Obama put signs around the White House: “No Quick Fixes.” Administration officials were forbidden from promising a short-term summer of recovery. They talked incessantly about long-term productivity. Democrats were going to define themselves as the economic Back to Basics Party. They wouldn’t let Republicans define them as somehow “alien” or “socialist.”
For 24 months, an emotionally intense opposition to the president has been unsupported by anything like a Republican policy agenda. The party is agreed on holding a vote on the repeal of Obamacare. Beyond that — it’s all a big void.
Politics abhors a vacuum however, and into that void all kinds of mischief can seep. We may be subject to endless investigations of petty scandals rather than measures to restart the stalled recovery. In advance of the election, Republicans might be able to agree on a payroll tax holiday, a redoubled infrastructure program, and federal encouragement of nuclear power generation. But afterwards, defining policy will get much tougher. The iron triangle will assert itself; rather than a finite set of promises to redeem, GOP lawmakers will confront an open-ended set of deals to be made.
In 1994, Republicans arrived in the majority with plans developed over more than a decade of serious work: welfare reform, Medicare reform, budget balancing, education choice. Where is today’s equivalent? Republicans have done insufficient serious policy work over the past half dozen years. The legacy of this inactivity is a party on the brink of power, lacking an intellectual framework for the use of that power.