Thursday, November 04, 2010
Give 'em Hell, Barry
John Nichols reviews how previous presidents, both successful and unsuccessful, have fared partywise in midterm elections and reminds us that all is not lost:
In fact, there is some evidence that losing big in the first midterm election might be better for a sitting president than losing small. Consider this: in 1978, first-term President Jimmy Carter's Democratic Party lost just three Senate seats and fifteen House seats—not so much a setback as a correction after the dramatic Democratic advances of the post-Watergate elections.His track record is not promising in this regard, but hey, hope springs eternal. And nothing focuses the mind like having to say "Senator Rand Paul."
Two years later, Carter lost to Reagan and Democrats shed a dozen Senate seats (including those of Senate giants Frank Church, Gaylord Nelson and George McGovern) and 35 House seats.
It is the Carter comparison that Obama must hope to avoid.
But to do so, he is going to have to make a smart calculation. Obama is unlikely to have the robust economy that Clinton enjoyed, so triangulation and compromise are unlikely to do much more than reinforce Republican messaging. If he is smart, Obama will borrow the a page from Truman's playbook. Faced with a reactionary Republican Congress, Truman pulled out his veto pen, took to the bully pulpit and gave 'em hell.
Truman also counseled against compromise, explaining that: "Given the choice between a Republican and someone who acts like a Republican, people will vote for a real Republican all the time."
Of all the political lessons that Barack Obama will take from the 2010 midterm elections that, undoubtedly, is the most important one.