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Do Democrats Have What It Takes To Lead?

Jan 25th, 2010 by James Breedlove | 0

While Democrats have shown they have the political skills to win elections they have not shown they have the political fortitude or attitude to lead.

What matters most in politics is the public’s perception of the party in power.  Obama is president and the Democrats hold majorities in both Houses of Congress because voters became so dissatisfied with former President Bush’s dictatorial image, the war in Iraq, and the series of scandals that made Republicans appear to be a cesspool of corruption.

A troubling sign for Democrats is that the public is losing faith in their ability to lead on virtually every domestic issue including healthcare, the economy, double digit unemployment, the trillion dollar debt, and corporate bailouts.

While recent polls do not validate the Republican proclamations that their gubernatorial wins in New Jersey and Virginia and senatorial win in Massachusetts are a repudiation of Obama’s presidency it is a well known fact that even a lie that is repeated often enough with conviction will become a reality for many.  Republicans have pounced on this apparent voter backlash to put the Administration and the Democratic agenda on the defensive.

Presidential senior advisor David Axelrod made a valiant attempt to defend Obama on ABC’s “This Week” program and stated,  “When the president walked in the door, he was handed the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, a financial crisis that held out the prospect of the collapse of the financial system and a fiscal crisis.  President Clinton left a $237 billion surplus; President Obama received a $1.3 trillion deficit.”

Axelrod indicated that the President is up to the challenge of leading the country out of this recession and to make this economy work for all Americans and not just a fortunate few.

These issues and specific initiatives to address the issues will be discussed in the State of the Union speech on Wednesday, January 27 when the President will make a concerted effort to reconnect with the nation.  Aides say President Obama’s speech will give frustrated Americans, despite their doubts and concerns, a clear sense of how everything he’s pursuing fits together for their benefit.

Supporters and opponents know that President Obama can deliver an awe inspiring and mesmerizing speech.  However, it is one thing to talk a good message but another thing to deliver on that message.  While bi-partisanship and extending olive branches may appear noble and benevolent it has not played well in the real world of cut throat partisan politics practiced by the Republican minority.

President Obama’s governing strategy must change if he is to have any chance to deliver on his promise to revitalize the America that disintegrated under the failed policies of the Bush administration.

One reason that Democrats have failed to bring about the change demanded by the voters is In the game of political chicken Democrats have flinched first in just about every legislative impasse and allowed the minority Republicans to not only set the agenda but also to define the public discussion of the agenda.  This is not the kind of leadership that gives comfort and confidence to the frustrated American people.

There are similarities between what President Bill Clinton had to deal with in neutralizing Republican Newt Gingrich’s congress in 1994 and Obama’s Republican congress.  A paper entitled “President Clinton and the Republican Congress 1995-2000” by Richard S. Conley of the University of Florida’s Political Science Department gives some useful insight.

President Clinton’s attempt to coordinate his domestic initiatives after Republicans captured both chambers of Congress in 1994 necessitated a fundamental reorganization of his legislative strategy.  The breakneck speed with which Speaker Newt Gingrich pushed his Contract With America relegated Clinton’s agenda to the sidelines of congressional and media attention.

Clinton’s strategic response to the Gingrich threat was to skillfully use the Constitutional power provided by the presidential veto.  The combination of his artful use of the bully pulpit and the threat of the veto enabled President Clinton to play a pivotal role in legislative outcomes when the governing environment became politically polarized.

During the course of his six year legislative confrontation with the GOP he vetoed thirty-five bills from 1995-2000 to neutralize the Republican divisive agenda. Republicans challenged eleven of the thirty-five vetoes but managed to override the president only once.  Clinton successfully relied on an implied use of the veto on over 140 bills to wrest policy concessions from them.

Currently, Republicans in the Senate and House have rejected every Obama backed Democratic compromise offered in favor of the American people and subordinated them to the best interests of the Republican Party.

A primary lesson from President Clinton’s tenure that could serve Obama is: The only thing other politicians respect is power and popularity.  Clinton’s veto threat was his power and his charisma gave him the ability to make average Americans believe that he was on their side which kept his popularity ratings high even during difficult times.

Take heed President Obama.  America is asking: Do Democrats have what it takes to lead?

James W. Breedlove

Comments or opinions may be sent to the writer at: jaydubub@swbell.net

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