01 May 2009


Going to the Mat | Obama Can't Blame Republicans Now

Bill Kristol has this bit of 'good news':
Similarly and contrarianly, I wonder if today’s Arlen Specter party switch, this time to the president’s party, won’t end up being bad for President Obama and the Democrats. With the likely seating of Al Franken from Minnesota, Democrats will have 60 seats in the Senate, giving Obama unambiguous governing majorities in both bodies. He’ll be responsible for everything. GOP obstructionism will go away as an issue, and Democratic defections will become the constant worry and story line. This will make it easier for GOP candidates in 2010 to ask to be elected to help restore some checks and balance in Washington -- and, meanwhile, Specter’s party change won’t likely have made much difference in getting key legislation passed or not. So, losing Specter may help produce greater GOP gains in November 2010, and a brighter Republican future.
Now, Obama owns everything that happens in Washington and he can't blame the GOP for whatever goes wrong.
I've seen this sentiment a few places, and I don't buy it. There's a world of difference between "It won't be the GOP's fault" and "The Democrats can't convince people it's the GOP's fault."

You tell the average undecided voter that it's the Republicans that are holding up the hop├źnchange enough times and they'll believe it. They don't know what a supermajority is, they don't know how many GOP and Dem senators there are, they aren't familiar with process, and even if they were they don't pay any attention to it.

Besides, a big chunk of voters are heavily invested psychologically in the notion that Obama will make their lives demonstrably better. If that doesn't materialize they have two options: admit that they were wrong about putting their trust in him, or find somebody else to blame. "You were duped, he couldn't deliver on his promises" is a much harder sell than "Obama — and you! — are victims of bitter, partisan Republican opposition" no matter how the Senate caucuses.

This isn't to say that the Democrats won't take a hit for over promising and under delivering in 2010 and 2012, but don't get ahead of yourselves thinking Specter changes everything.


  1. I agree with your basic point, that belief of obstructionism is more important than actual obstructionism, but I think it should be pointed out that with 39 lockstepping Republicans in the Senate there is still plenty of room for Republican obstructionism in fact rather than just in mind.

  2. True, true.

    I didn't make it explicit, but I was predicating everything on the possibility that (1) the GOP doesn't obstruct things and (2) the Dems don't end up getting everything (or most things) they promised. Those seem to be the assumptions of people making the original "now it's all Obama's responsibility" observations.