When Nancy hands John the keys to the House in January there is a real question as to where national leadership will come from. Like it or not, she has done the heavy lifting for much of what the Democrats have accomplished (inflicted?) with the specifics rarely coming from the White House - the Stimulus; Health Care; Cap and Trade (at least through the House); Ask/Tell; and much more. Her fund raising and political skills have made her an unusually powerful Speaker for the past four years, but that was then. While she will remain Minority leader, the "mandate of Heaven" has passed - but to whom?
Logically, the President is the leader of the nation and the party and the loyalist press is pivoting from liberal criticism for his abandoning their causes to praise for his leadership in moving to the middle on taxes, getting a treaty with Russia, and the Senate repealing Don't Ask/Don't Tell. . But there is little reason to expect Obama to move beyond expressing his wishes to actually leading:
- His 129 "present" votes in the Illinois Senate have long ago been forgotten, but they were a good measure of the man.
- Domestically, he has deferred to Pelosi and Reid to write the important legislation and do the arm twisting. Even with large majorities in both houses he has shied from confrontation on card check, immigration, and Guantanamo, leaving the feckless strategy for dealing with the trials of terrorists to Eric Holder. There is no plan to deal with the deficit and Ben Bernanke has been left to be the global spokesman for the economy. It is not that Obama hasn't generally made his wishes known, it is just that he hasn't had the leadership skills to make Congress care.
- Internationally it is worse. Campaign positioning against Bush's "war of choice" in Iraq has led him to drift through a non-committal commitment in Afghanistan; nobody cares what he thinks about Israel; North Korea is left to the Chinese; Eastern Europe to the Russians; and Iran to the Iranian mullahs. At least Obama's pronouncements on global warming (Copenhagen and Cancun) have been as ineffective as his efforts to attract the 2016 Olympics and the 2022 soccer World Cup.
The Majority Leader of "the world's greatest deliberative body", Harry Reid has suffered from a set of rules that allow 40 votes to block most anything - although many liberals would like for him to make the Republicans actually mount filibusters and take unpopular votes. He'd rather focus on the camaraderie and decorum of the chamber so long as nobody talks about the nuclear waste site at Yucca Mountain. In the last few days fear among Democrats and Republicans about the pending rightward shift of the chamber has led to several middle ground compromises. But for Harry going forward, no votes for Time's "Man of the Year" here.
So, with power abhoring a vacuum and the voices of 85 new Republican members (63 gain; 22 turnover) echoing in the halls John Boehner is the logical choice - but what does that mean? The Republicans (including Boehner) will not tolerate a strong centralized style after the experience of Newt Gingerich, Denny Hastert, Tom Delay, and especially Nancy Pelosi. Boehner's history and pronouncements indicate that he will rely more heavily on his committee chairs, allow debate and amendments on the House floor, and be more willing to work across party lines than some of the new members may like. In an environment where leadership depends on the subject, and everybody agrees that the subject is jobs and debt, Paul Ryan as the chair of the Budget Committee may rise to the top rung.
And in a more diffused world, look to some of the dozen new Republican governors who come with Tea Party backing, a perceived mandate to stop Obamacare, a need to deal forthrightly with budget deficits, and - in some cases - presidential aspirations. Both the House and the governors will want to reverse the flow of power to Washington.
A confusing mix indeed for those who like order and predictability. But we are at an inflection point where our financial realities will drive policy, a good argument can be made that the public spoke for austerity in the last election (after looking at Greece and their grand-children's debt), and neither the administration nor the Senate has shown any understanding of what needs to be done. The field is clear for the likes of Paul Ryan, New Jersey Governor Chris Cristie, and Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell. Lets hope that their leadership proves equal to the challenge.
This week's video is a new take on a timely old story. Merry Christmas.
bill bowen - 12/24/10