Era of Democratic rule not a given with Obama victory

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Barack Obama is heading to the White House and his party has tightened its grip on Congress, but election and public policy analysts say this doesn’t necessarily mean a prolonged era of Democratic rule.

Mr. Obama and the Democrats will have full control of the executive and legislative centers of power in January and they will have almost unbridled authority to enact their agenda at a time when a majority of the electorate seems ready and eager to accept sweeping changes, as the liberal freshman senator promised in his campaign.

But a key Democratic policy adviser warns that Mr. Obama and his party must move cautiously on the kind of changes they will implement to avoid the mistake of giving the country a bigger government than voters really want, a move that could lead voters into “rethinking” their faith in the Democrats in the 2010 midterm election.

“That Democrats now command a unified government for the first time since the catastrophic midterm defeat of 1994 should flash strong warning signs to party leaders, said William Galston, who was President Clinton’s chief domestic policy adviser.

“On the critical issue of government’s role, Democrats do not have a mandate. Rather, they have a chance to make their case. And they must do so at a time when public trust in government is at a historic low,” Mr. Galston warned his party.

Meantime, Republican leaders Thursday scoffed at news stories that suggest the Democrats have begun to build what could be a longterm majority, saying that any predictions of the Republican Party’s permanent minority status were greatly exaggerated.

“The Democrats are as fully permanent as Republicans were in 2004. If they do well, they will last. If they do badly, they will be fired,” said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

“I’ve lived through the Republicans’ 1964 obituary, the 1974 obituary and the 1992 obituary,” Mr. Gingrich said. “If the Democrats listen to the American people and deliver, it could create a strong majority. If they repudiate the American people and fail to deliver, and if the Republicans learn from their own mistakes and failures, the Democratic majority could be very short-lived.”

Veteran elections analyst Rhodes Cook similarly thinks it is premature at best to suggest that Tuesday’s election has ushered in a lengthy political reign for the Democrats.

“Obama was the beneficiary of an unusually good political climate that favored him and the Democrats, but it’s not going to stay pro-Democrat forever,” Mr. Cook said. “You don’t have a new liberal political era unless you have several elections confirming the same thing. If the Democrats think that is the case now, they do so at their peril.”

In a paper titled “After the Obama Win,” Mr. Galston, a government scholar at the Brookings Institution, reminded the president-elect and the Democrats of the Clinton administration’s failure “to form an effective coalition around a common agenda that led to a series of divisive votes” on trade, the budget and crime, among others, and the failure of Mr. Clinton’s health care plan.

As Mr. Obama begins the transition work to prepare for the incoming administration, he will have only “a few weeks to make key decisions - about overall spending levels, tax relief and legislative priorities - before the new Obama administration submits its first budget,” he said.

“Much depends on their ability to coalesce around a set of promises that can be met before voters rethink in 2010,” Mr. Galston wrote.

Mr. Obama comes into the presidency with a long campaign laundry list of economic, tax and other domestic initiatives that various estimates say will cost upward of $1 trillion on top of the financial rescue plan and a second stimulus package.

However, Mr. Galston questions whether Mr. Obama’s decisive victory over John McCain really means a majority of Americans want bigger government. A Pew Research Center survey released last week found that 43 percent of Americans favored “a bigger government offering more services versus 42 percent who favor a smaller government with fewer services.”

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About the Author
Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is the chief political correspondent for The Washington Times, the author of five books and a nationally syndicated columnist. His twice-weekly United Feature Syndicate column appears in newspapers across the country, including The Washington Times. He received the Warren Brookes Award For Excellence In Journalism in 1995 and in that same year was the host and co-writer of ...

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