Democrats are starting to roll out two new narratives. First, they’re now claiming that their base has re-energized and that they will hold the House and the Senate — and then they’ll go to West Virginia! Pennsylvania! Wisconsin! Nevada! Yeeargh! But just in case that meme proves wrong, Democrats also have begun to shrug at losing control of the House, spinning that Republicans won’t be able to govern and that 2012 will just reverse the loss, providing Democrats with an even bigger mandate. Al Hunt reports this at the New York Times, and warns Democrats that the reality of minority status in Congress is not pleasant:
With a looming sense of a debacle in the U.S. midterm elections, some Democrats are rationalizing a silver lining: It may not be a bad thing if Republicans win control of at least one chamber of Congress on Nov. 2.
Then, the argument goes, the opposition would be responsible for governing decisions, and its positions — for privatizing Social Security, rolling back health-care benefits and giving huge tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans — would backfire.
The Democrats would come roaring back two years later. The model is President Bill Clinton’s re-election in 1996, two years after Republicans took over Congress.
Er, okay, but Clinton won in a three-way race against Bob Dole. How did Congressional Democrats do against Republicans? They lost. They lost in 1998, too, and in 2000, 2002, and 2004. As it turned out, Republicans felt pretty comfortable in governing and making tough decisions like welfare reform and tax cuts.
Hunt doesn’t buy the spin, either. As he notes, having the majority means controlling both the agenda and the pursestrings. The GOP can’t repeal ObamaCare with the kinds of majorities they can possibly get in the Senate, assuming they get a majority at all, but they can cut funding to enough of it to make it stall. Either Barack Obama has to come down from the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue to get things done, or he has to play hardball and hope the GOP blinks first. Given his poor performance in the first two years, Obama can hardly afford to play chicken.
Besides, if he does dig in his heels, Republicans in the House can busy themselves with other tasks, as Hunt reminds Democrats. Once they regain the majority, they also control Congressional subpoena power. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) will become chair of the Oversight Committee, and he plans on probing stimulus spending in depth. Issa is also likely to issue subpoenas in the case of Gerald Walpin’s firing in order to find out what was really behind the sacking of an Inspector General who objected to a sweetheart settlement with Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, an Obama ally. Issa will also target the DoJ’s refusal to prosecute in the New Black Panther Party case. Obama leaves Republicans with time on their hands at his own peril.
After the midterms, Democrats will likely reassure their base that they’ll soon get power back on Capitol Hill. If they don’t learn the most important lesson — that their agenda was too radical for America — they may not be back for a generation.
Addendum: Hunt writes this warning at the end, but leaves out a couple of key points:
Finally, those Democrats who see a silver lining in losing the House and forcing responsibility on the opposition should remember that Congress remained in Republican hands in that 1996 election. Two years later, in a lame-duck session, that House majority voted to impeach Mr. Clinton for lying about sex.
When you tell lies about sex in a bar or at a party with friends, they’re just lies about sex. When you lie under oath in a deposition on a salient point in a sexual-harassment lawsuit, it’s called perjury — which is the charge on which Clinton was impeached, and for which a federal judge ordered Clinton disbarred.