My prior post on this topic attempted to refute one of President Obama’s critics from the left, Thomas Frank, who is skeptical of the value of bi-partisanship. Critics on the right seem even more strongly attached to the notion of politics as struggle, rather than as an effort to reach accommodation. According to Ramesh Ponnuru,
a writer for National Review, President Obama is kidding himself if he
thinks that after winning re-election, the Republican Party is likely to
become more cooperative than they have acted during his first term.
wins re-election, the Republican Party will react by moving
right, not left. It will become less likely to compromise
with Obama, not more.
Ponnuru reaches this conclusion based on the likelihood that President Obama will win by a smaller margin than in
2008, unusual for an incumbent, and that the Republican Party will
strengthen its control over Congress. In that situation, the Republican
Party is likely to feel even more emboldened to push its conservative
agenda than previously.
There is a thinly-veiled plea in this analysis, to consider voting for
Romney instead of Obama, in the hope that renewed Republican control
over the government will allow the government to function more
effectively than under the existing stalemate. If voters are sick of
partisan gridlock, they should not support Obama, goes this argument,
because in President Obama’s second term, the Republicans are going to
become even more obstreperous than they already are. So we might as well just hand the reins over to the other party if we want to eliminate all the partisan wrangling.
I question the premise of this argument for several reasons. First, the
upcoming budget negotiations, which all parties have agreed to put off
until the lame duck session after the election, have been designed to
force the Republicans in Congress to compromise regardless of who wins
the election (because otherwise all the Bush tax cuts will expire and automatic cuts to the defense budget will kick in). That means the
Republicans in Congress must compromise on allowing revenue increases
to be part of the equation if they want to avoid that result. But if Romney wins, Republicans in Congress will
probably be less likely to recognize the necessity of compromise.
Second, the outcome that conservatives are advancing, that they will
take an even harder line after the election, is not what most people,
particularly moderate and independent voters, seem to want. When asked, people
respond positively to the suggestion that the parties work together to
find common solutions. They respond negatively to obstructionism and
delay. Again, this seems true regardless of which candidate wins the
presidential election. People are disgusted with Congress because its
members seem unable to work with people of the opposite party to solve
common problems. On the other hand, most voters seem to favor a more balanced approach to budget and tax issues, and to preserving social programs, than the Republicans are proposing. So while Romney supporters are probably right that people want the
government to function more smoothly, that doesn’t necessarily show
support for smoothly passing the whole Republican agenda.
Finally, let’s not forget the crucial role of the United States Senate,
the bane of practically every president’s existence. Unless one party
has a super-majority, which neither party is likely to get after this
election, the Senate has considerable power to put a monkey wrench into
any president’s plans. Democrats are not likely to roll over if they find themselves in the minority. And in the Senate, a minority
of Democrats would still have the power to derail much of the Republican
Can the Republicans promise to end partisan gridlock? Only if they gain effective control over the entire government, and are empowered to pass a program that is probably a bit too extreme for most voters. If President Obama is re-elected, will that usher in an era of good feeling in Washington? Not very likely, but there may be some pressure on the opposition to participate in the process in a more constructive way.