One strand ofconventional wisdom among elite D.C. reporters is that losing the midterm elections would be a good thing for the White House. Hence New York Times reporterPeter Baker (10/24/10):
WASHINGTON ÃƒÆ’Â¢ÃƒÂ¢”Å¡Â¬”Â Let there be no mistake: President Obama wants the Democrats to win next week’s midterm elections. His voice has gone hoarse telling every audience that from Delaware to Oregon. But let’s also acknowledge this: Although he will not say so, there is at least a plausible argument that he might be better off if they lose.
The reality of presidential politics is that it helps to have an enemy.
I have to think that people who don’t live inthe Beltway bubble, but who do nonetheless follow politics pretty closely, would find it strange to think that the Republican minority does not currentlyfill the role ofObama’s “enemy.” Though Baker’s notion of an enemy is pretty flexible; he suggests that Obama might be able to “forge agreements with Republicans on issues like the economy, energy and education” after the Democrats lose–i.e., moving far enough to the right that he would be pursuing policies that Republicans would be likely to support.
This suggestion is taken to the extreme by the Dean of the D.C. Press, the Washington Post‘s David Broder, who wrote a whole column (10/24/10) admiring the deep austerity measures being adopted in Britain. Massive spending cuts and the slashing of government payroll? If only it could happen here! And the surest route would be for Republicans to win big next Tuesday, which would bring us some sort of bipartisan Nirvana:
The American political system virtually precludes the possibility of a coalition government. But the midterm elections provide the opportunity for a similar breakthrough.
If Republicans emerge next month with sufficient leverage in the House and Senate to approach Obama with a proposition, they could insist that he “do a Cameron” when it comes to federal spending: a radical rollback now in the welfare state in return for a two-year truce on such policy questions as repeal of the healthcare law.
The vehicle could well be Obama’s strong endorsement of the December 1 report from his fiscal responsibility commission, which is expected to emphasize spending discipline over raising revenue. This would offer major gains to both parties, and set the stage for another experiment in the British model.
By the accounts of credible economists (New York Times, 10/22/10; Guardian, 10/25/10), Britain’s plan to slash spending and raise taxes in the midst of a deep downturn is a recipe for economic disaster. If the U.S. political system makes it difficult to follow in British footsteps, that’s one thing to be said for the U.S. political system.