Democrats Must Wield Power Carefully

Democrats must act wisely or risk returning to minority status in Congress

capitol-building-pictureView of the West Front of the U.S. Capitol Building, which faces the National Mall. (Source: VisitingDC)

In politics as in life, great crises often create great opportunities. In electing a Democratic president and increased majorities in both chambers of Congress, the American public gave Democrats a mandate to repair much of the damage it believes Republicans have done to the country.

But there are some, like Sen. John McCain in one of his campaign’s closing arguments, who charge that a single-party government can’t be good for the country because, they fear not having a system of checks and balances will lead to abuse of power — particularly under Congress’s left-wing leaders.

However, having a single party in power does have its advantages. The most important of which is that more gets often accomplished. And when there is deadlock, such as can occur when one party controls the White House and another Congress, voters don’t know who to blame for what does or doesn’t get done. “If in four years things are as bad as they are today, there won’t be any question as to who’s responsible,” says DePaul University political scientist Michael Mezey.

House majority whip Rep. Jim Clyburn says there is a difference between leaning left and lurching left, and he has warned his fellow Democrats against the latter. “I get a little nervous when I hear that people, especially on my side of the aisle, seem to feel that we’ve been given a mandate to go lurching to the left as an antidote for Bush having taken us so far to the right,” he says. He believes that President-elect Barack Obama will govern from the center and voters want lawmakers to work together in a bipartisan manner to put the country back on track.

Clyburn also has cautioned members against trying to achieve too much too quickly. Looking back to the sixties when President Lyndon Johnson enacted civil rights laws in stages, he says, “We have to be patient; we can’t do things in one fell swoop. You do it in an incremental, evolutionary way.”

Although in some ways Obama’s job will be easier with Democratic majorities, conflicts will arise from within the party’s rank and file and it cannot be assumed that he’ll get everything he wants.

“Bill Clinton had a Democratic majority in his first two years as president and there were frustrations, including Congress’s failure to pass his healthcare program. In 2005-06, Bush was not able to move his social security revision plan through a Republican-controlled House and Senate,” says Mezey. “So the assumption that presidents control their co-partisans is false. Obama will have to work very hard to keep his majorities together and on a number of issues will have to seek bipartisan solutions, and he will encounter opposition from both the left and the right.”

Although there will be exceptions, many Republicans are not likely to be in

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