| 2008 Hedge Fund
Why Democrats Should Win Only One Chamber
Pierre Tristam/Candide's Notebooks, November 8, 2006
Naturally I’ll be celebrating if Democrats pull off majority victories in the House and Senate. But there’s good reason to argue against a twin win. Put another way, it’s not the end of the world if Democrats manage to win only one chamber. It may even be better for them, if it’s 2008 you have in mind. Here’s why. The next two years are Bush’s legacy years. Either he achieves a couple of big-ticket items (making his 2001 and 2003 tax cuts permanent, for instance) or he’ll be remembered as the biggest-achieving loser president since Reconstruction. He’ll leave the country in deficit and poised for worse, Iraq and Afghanistan in ruins, and a world more distrustful and disdainful of the United States than at any point in the country’s two hundred and thirty year history. He should be blocked from making the tax cuts permanent, if we’re not to spend the next generation with a permanently disabling deficit and a pair of cuffs around the budget. He should be blocked from further amassing executive power as if he was on an East German revival trip. He should be blocked from promulgating energy and environmental policies designed to fatten energy companies’ pockets, erase regulation and jeopardize what’s left of the nation’s environmental treasures.
But Democrats can do all that by holding just one of the two chambers. They can also have all the hearings they want, on Iraq or intelligence or the administration’s pathological lying, with just one chamber. Controlling both chambers won’t change that by much. It enables the Democrats to write bills more to their liking, but not to have them enacted into law. The president will just veto them. In any case, the purpose of the next two years is to stop the Bush junta’s machinations. Enacting an agenda would be, thanks to Bush, a lost cause. The purpose of the next two years is also to win the presidency in 2008. For that, the Democrats need to be in the best position possible to convince the electorate that they’re it in 2008. They won’t be in as good a position to do that if they control both chambers until then. Why? Because the GOP can then use them as punching bag.
They can turn to voters in 2008 and blame the entire inaction of Congress since 2004 on Democrats by conflating the Democrats’ hold from 2006 on with the Republicans’ failures since 2004 (or 2000, depending on your perspective). Why do them the favor? And it is a favor. That’s why legions of conservatives have spent the last several months hoping that the GOP loses both chambers. They excuse it as “teaching the GOP a lesson.” But it isn’t that, really. It’s assuming battle stations for 2008. It’s setting up the Democrats for the kind of fall they’ve become so able at obliging. Witness the Democrats when they controlled the Senate and the Iran-Contra affair broke in 1987. It should have been the end of the Reagan presidency. Instead, it was the new dawn of Ollie North “patriotism”—the kind of patriotism that excuses lawbreaking, Constitution-busting, basement-foreign-policy-making as long as the guts are in the heart place. It’s the Teddy Roosevelt approach to foreign policy: sure mistakes and massacres will happen, but all for a good cause. Ollie North turned around the Iran-Contra hearings by going for the American public’s chauvinistic heartstrings. It worked. The Democrats have yet to figure out how to take back the initiative, as they did during the Nixon-Watergate hearings: back then they laid it out simply and clearly: the Nixon administration broke the law, insulted the citizenry’s intelligence and stepped all over the Constitution. The guy was toast. The same can, and should, happen to Bush, but not the way the Democrats are going.
So to get back to the doable. Take over one of the two chambers. Block the Bush junta’s agenda. Expose the Bush junta for what it is. Invite Halliburton in for a few chats, too. Very public chats. Bechtel, too. And KRB and the rest of them. But be satisfied with only one chamber, so that come 2008 the GOP will be disarmed. It won’t have “Congress” to kick around, if the Senate has stayed in Republican hands. The blame will still be the GOP’s to justify to the electorate. Eight years of near-total domination of Washington, with what accomplishments?
Only one issue overrides the one-chamber-only argument, and that’s the issue of judges and justices, whom the Senate confirms. In the next two years there’s no telling who will leave the U.S. Supreme Court, though John Paul Stevens, who was born when Taft was chief justice and Oliver Wendell Holmes was ripping through his colleagues with one dissent after another, can’t keep up the liberal standard forever. If he goes, a Republican Senate will be very bad news indeed. There’s also the rest of the federal judiciary to worry about. Bush has been stacking it. The steamrolling should stop. A Democratic Senate would likely slow it down enough. But is that single issue compelling enough to warrant a Democratic Senate—at the expense, possibly, of a Democratic presidency in 2008? I don’t think so. Let’s just hope John Paul Stevens and the rest of them can stick it out two more years.
Still, and again: should the Democrats win both chambers tonight I won’t be slowing down on the champagne. But I will be keeping my fingers crossed and hoping to goddamn that the Democrats don’t screw up their majorities the way they did in the Reagan years, and the way they did again, when they held the Senate and Jeffords bailed on the GOP, in the first two years of the Bush presidency. Now off to the races.