Monday, February 04, 2008


This is NOT an endorsement (I'm a political scientist, so I don't care for ANY of the candidates, truth be told) but here's one version of an argument I've heard increasingly, in various forms, from some thoughtful, knowledgeable people:
. . . But the type of president who succeeds George W. Bush will not be determined solely, or possibly even mostly by the experience, character and ideological perspective of the person who wins. As I have written about in numerous essays(here, here, here, and here), I think we are on the verge of a possibly transforming election akin to the 1932 election. In 1930 Democrats posted big gains in the House and Senate, and eked out narrow majorities in both chambers for the first time in a generation. In 1932, largely because of disgust with Herbert Hoover and the Republican party, the Democrats again scored huge gains, creating powerful governing majorities in both chambers of Congress. And the presidency was won, of course, by Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Many readers have missed one of the main points of my essays, namely that FDR didn't entirely create the 1932 landslide, and that the President FDR eventually became was not foreseen by many observers of the 1932 election. In fact, in important ways, the 1932 landslide helped FDR being a great President. It was in part because he had a huge Democratic majority, and they had a powerful mandate from the American people, that they could embark on their bold crusade of fundamental change to ameliorate the devastation caused by the great depression. But contrary to the beliefs of many today, Roosevelt did not campaign on or enter office with a detailed policy platform. In fact, about the only concrete policy he espoused was to balance the federal budget, a policy he quickly jettisoned in favor of massive public spending and the accompanying debts to stimulate economic growth. Public spending to stimulate an economy is now axiomatic, but Roosevelt's administration was possibly the first to adopt such a Keynesian economic policy, something that was not foreshadowed in Roosevelt's almost content-free campaign.

Roosevelt also didn't win that election by as much as most people believe. In 1920 Democrat James Cox (with running mate FDR) got only 34% of the vote. In 1924 John Davis received only 29% of the vote, and in 1928 Al Smith took less than 41%. So the 57.41% Roosevelt received was a huge jump from previous Democratic performances. But his percentage was roughly equal to Eisenhower's total in 1956, and less that what Johnson (1964), Nixon (1972) and Reagan (1984) garnered.

What mattered in 1932, however, was the mandate from the voters, the 13 Senate seats and the 97 House seats that came along with Roosevelt's landslide. Roosevelt was one of our two or three greatest presidents because he took advantage of the political opportunity of an electoral mandate, 60 seats in the Senate and 313 in the House.

There's no way Democrats will gain the 73 seats it would need to get us to 313 in the House. But it's not inconceivable that we could hit 60 seats in the Senate. And even if we only pick up 20 or 30 seats in the House, with the much more cohesive House (where individual "mavericks" have less ability to gum up the works than they do in the Senate), Democrats could push through much more progressive legislation than the sclerotic majorities sustained by residual Dixiecrat influences that the Republicans finally swept out in 1994.

This is maybe the most important difference between a ticket led by Barack Obama and one headed up by Hillary Clinton. As I said above, I think Hillary Clinton will win if she's our nominee. But I believe Barack Obama could win in a landslide.

. . . . The American public wants change. . . They will vote for Clinton. But I believe many of them will embrace Obama. And the difference between a Clinton win at 53% and an Obama win at 58% is probably 12-15 extra members of Congress, and maybe another 3-6 Democratic Senators.

Having a bigger congress means the difference between a crappy national health care plan and something decent, maybe even something more progressive than a President Obama himself would even request. It also means no more of the horrible "compromises" we've been forced to endure from the Senate. In a Senate with 58 or more Democrats, centrist Democrats wouldn't be able to hide in the shadows and fail to support a decisive policy to end the war in Iraq. We would pass the Employee Free Choice Act, which in tandem with a more progressive tax policy could reverse decades of growing wage and wealth inequality, which in turn has led to less democratic politics and policies by our government. And a historic repudiation of the current Republican party could finally curtail the rise of the radical rightwing movement, which starting in 1964 and with great acceleration during the 1980's, took over the Republican party and has turned a conservative party in to a radical threat to the New Deal and the essential ideals of American democracy as first put forth by the Founding Fathers and as expounded upon by Abraham Lincoln, FDR and the New Deal Coalition, the Civil Rights movement, the feminist movement, and LBJ's Great Society. . . .

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