Buried in a story in the Politico today on the growing friction
between the House Democrats and the White House is an intriguing bit of news from an unnamed insider: House Democrats are beginning to wonder if the White House is intentionally throwing them under the bus:
One Democratic official ... (said) some Democratic House members actually believe that the White House “wouldn’t mind having a foil, and that foil is a Republican (House) majority — that would serve their political purposes going into 2012.”
These House Democrats say privately that veterans of Bill Clinton’s administration working in Obama’s White House may think having a Republican majority in Congress will help Obama win re-election, as it did Clinton in 1996. House Democrats know that Obama will do whatever it takes to win re-election, whether or not it helps members keep their seats this year.
The story goes on to quote White House adviser David Axelrod saying that such theories are “not based in reality.”
Nevertheless, political experts have long noted that presidents tend to do best when the opposition party holds Congress and struggle when their parties have the majority. Jimmy Carter struggled despite Democratic domination of Congress, while Ronald Reagan thrived in the same environment. Bill Clinton stumbled when his party controlled Congress but regained his footing after the GOP takeover of 1994. George W. Bush’s having a GOP-led Congress for most of his term did not help him pass social security or immigration reform, etc.
The problem appears to be that one-party control creates unrealistically high expectations from supporters that anything can be done. In reality, even a small minority can often block action in Congress. The Founding Fathers intended the system to work this way. It also makes the victories by the minority party in stymieing the president’s agenda seem like an even bigger deal. To put things in perspective, today’s frustrated Democrats were yesterday’s proud gridlockers stopping Bush’s Social Security reform.
On the other hand, having the opposition party in control of Congress not only gives the president a foil to play against, but it eases the pressure on him to pass anything big for his own base. They know not to expect as much.
So it’s not surprising that some Democrats may be wondering if the White House wants to get back to its campaign days, when they were struggling against the odds. That’s a lot more than its first year actually governing when fans wanted a radical shift in health care, energy, labor and foreign policy.