Don’t expect too many incumbent Democrats on Capitol Hill to ask Barack Obama to join them on the campaign trail, especially in red states or swing states where his unpopularity already represents a potentially insurmountable obstacle to their re-election. That doesn’t mean that these Democrats have turned up their noses at Obama’s assistance, though. The Washington Post reports that most of them want the White House to start turning regulatory and enforcement screws to boost their popularity back home:
Sen. Mark Begich has said repeatedly that he thinks President Obama is wrong about a host of policies, whether on oil drilling, the military or the environment. Begich also has made it perfectly clear that he has no interest in having his fellow Democrat out to his home state of Alaska, saying this year that he doesn’t “care to have him campaign for me.”
But that doesn’t mean he’s not looking for the president’s help. Begich has, in fact, submitted a long wish list to the Obama administration for agency decisions that he thinks would boost his reelection chances. Other Democrats have done so, too.
In New Hampshire, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen would like the administration to help expand access to the new health-care law. In Louisiana, Sen. Mary Landrieu has lobbied for help to keep open a federal call center. In Montana, Sen. John Walsh is fighting a decision to privatize land that could be used for hunting and fishing.
In the post-earmark era, using the party’s control of the federal bureaucracy to deliver local projects or delay new regulations that might stifle jobs has become a critical part of Democratic efforts to maintain control of the Senate. In close races, particularly in less populated states such as Alaska and Montana, incumbents are hoping that a few favorable agency decisions might secure the backing of key constituencies.
Consider this the Chicago way. It’s doubtful that this is an entirely new development, or entirely restricted to Democratic Presidents, for that matter, although it’s interesting that the Post doesn’t mention much about the past history of such practices. One reason might be what the Post’s Paul Kane highlights, which is the earmark ban. To the extent that earmarks have been suppressed — a debatable result — these legislators can no longer run their own pork-barrel, incumbency-protection rackets. Now they need help from the executive branch, and are apparently not shy in demanding it.
The fact that this White House is open for that kind of business shouldn’t shock anyone. Obama got elected on the promise to get rid of crony politics and corrupt political dealings, but Obama comes from the Chicago Machine culture. The limiting factor Kane reports isn’t Hope And Change, but Obama’s own political prospects. He doesn’t want to anger environmentalists, for instance, so Begich’s attempt to get federal funding for the King Cove road project has failed, to Begich’s embarrassment. At least, it’s failed so far.
Regardless of whether this is an innovation from Democrats or merely an amplification necessitated by the earmark ban, its cause isn’t the Obama administration or even incumbent Democrats per se. Its root cause is a federal government with far too much regulatory and spending power over what should be non-federal issues. Crony politics would not become a corrupting factor in elections without the continued growth of a large and unchecked federal bureaucracy. Unfortunately, neither party seems terribly serious about addressing that root cause, at least not at the moment.