Now that the 2012 election cycle is underway — Let’s discuss this New York Times editorial, “Try Something Hard: Governing.” It suggests to Republican that if they go overboard with obstructionism over the next two years, as they promise to do, it will hurt them in the 2012 elections.
Steve M points out that, contrary to what the editorial says, the Republican Party paid only a small price for the excessive Clinton-era witch hunts in the 1990s.
Republicans lost a few seats in ’98 — but they kept both houses, and did so again in three straight election cycles, and they kinda-sorta won a presidential election in 2000 that, based on peace and prosperity, should have been a Democratic blowout. And they won the White House again in 2004. Do I really have to recount all this? Excessive investigation did very little damage to the GOP in the Gingrich years — and creating a sense of multiple scandals (involving Gore and money as much as Clinton and sex) surely helped keep Gore out of the White House.
My sense of things is that while much of the country found Gingrich, Lott, DeLay, etc. etc., highly annoying, they also bought a large part of the propagada they were selling, especially after the Monica Lewinsky/Paula Jones episodes.
However, the United States of the 1990s was a very different place from the United States of the 2010s. Remember when some pundits were calling the 1990s the “age of complacency”? The economy was pretty sweet, and few were imagining rabid jihadists behind every bush. So what if Congress did little else but investigate the president? What else needed to be done?
The crew about to take over the House of Representatives promises to make the Ken Starr inquisition seem like a respectful little inquiry. As the editorial says, we’re in for endless tooth-and-claw politicking but little or no governing for the next couple of years. Their first priority is destroying the Obama administration, and they may succeed.
However, I’m not sure the American people will react to the witch hunts now the same way they did in the 1990s, for a couple of reasons.
First, as hard as they went after Clinton in the 1990s, the president remained popular. Were it not for the fact that they actually caught Clinton with his hand in the, um, wrong cookie jar, so to speak, I think the witch hunts would have backfired on the Republicans much more than they did. As disciplined as he is, I very much doubt President Obama is going to hand the GOP anything nearly as tangible to use against him.
Second, people are not complacent now. In fact, in my lifetime I can’t think of a time in which people were less complacent than they are now.
I think the Democrats should prepare a simple talking point — something like “Republicans in Congress need to stop politicking and start governing” — and be prepared to repeat it incessantly. The solid Democratic counteroffensive should be that Republicans are a bunch of clowns who are not serious about government, which has the advantage of being true.