Democrats Must Wield Power Carefully

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

much of a bipartisan mood come January. “They’re of two minds now, but there’s certainly a core of them who want to fight and oppose all things Obama. Democrats beat a lot of moderate Republicans, so that leaves the hard-core, red meat Republicans. The irony of all the Democratic victories is that it leaves a more coherent ideological minority party,” says University of California, Berkeley political scientist Bruce Cain. “You have to separate what the party activists are thinking from the elected officials. The elected officials want to be in power and thank God they do because that’s what moderates them.”

Cain predicts there will also be pressures from special interests who helped Democrats this year, such as labor unions and environmental groups. “They’ll say we worked for you, we delivered, now we want everything on our list and we want it now,” says Cain.

Labor has grown zealous in its determination to get legislation passed that will make it easier for them to unionize without a secret ballot, which will likely cause dissent among Democrats. “Certainly traditional liberals will be supportive but there are a number of Democratic lawmakers who come from states where unions aren’t particularly popular who will revolt against things of that sort,” says Mezey. He believes Obama’s healthcare plan might also result in opposition from both his party and Republicans, and GOP lawmakers will surely oppose him on tax policy.

That’s why Mezey and others applaud Obama’s choice of Illinois Rep. Rahm Emmanuel as chief of staff. “He understands how to cut deals and make things happen in Congress and I think Obama is aware that this is one of his problems,” says Mezey.

Cain says that Democrats hated being in the minority and are trying to draw on lessons learned from both Clinton’s and Bush’s terms. He says, “Congress is partly at the mercy of the president. If the public perceives that the administration doesn’t handle the economic recovery well or hasn’t found the right answers, traditionally that first mid-term election can be a killer for the party in power and they know it.”

And, Clyburn adds, anytime they appear to forget it, he’ll be there to remind them.


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