Thursday, November 16, 2006

democratic congress at one week

It is very early to judge, particularly in a lame duck session where the new members have not taken office yet. Nevertheless, the first few days of Democratic control in Washington have been, well, less than impressive. My earlier prediction--that the next two years would be among the best Republicans have had in while--looks increasingly likely.

The first misstep by the new Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, involved the support of John Murtha for majority leader. Whether she was right or wrong about this--in my view neither Murtha nor Hoyer are terribly impressive although Murtha has shown more political courage--it is almost unheard of for an incoming Speaker to be rebuked by her own party in this way. It seems unlikely that President Bush, or the Iranians for that matter, will be intimidated by someone who does not control their own caucus.

A deeper problem concerns the issue of committee chairmen. While the Democrats won close elections in the South and Midwest using moderate-to-conservative candidates like Jim Webb in Virginia or Claire McCaskill in Missouri-, it seems increasingly clear their day-to-day leaders will be of a far more liberal stripe. This is especially true in the House, where the power brokers (Charles Rangel, Rahm Emanuel, Henry Waxman, Pelosi herself) are drawn overwhelmingly from liberal, big city districts with a strong minority or counterculture influence. The "bait and switch" factor, always a risk with the Democratic strategy, looks to become more prominent.

An especially perplexing item is the Democrats' choice of Presidential hopefuls. Whatever their personal merits, candidates like Webb and McCaskill have at least demonstrated they can win in formerly red states. By contrast national liberals, of a Hilary Clinton stripe, seem likely to forfeit at least the 3-5 percent of support that would but the GOP over the top (again) in those States. So the most prominent challenger for the Democratic nomination is Barack Obama who is generally perceived as . . . left of Clinton on most major issues. The calculation appears to be that 2008 will be a straight-line extension of 2006, the Democrats continuing to pick up support until northern liberals become acceptable in enough states to win. But the future is never a pure extension of the present, and those who think it is usually pay for the error.


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