It’s the Congress Stupid

Continuing on his quest to convince everyone that Barack Obama is a Republican or something, Chris Bowers compares the new administration to Congress:

In the 110th Congress, there were 236 Democrats in the U.S. House, 49 in the Senate, and two “Independents” who caucused with Democrats. Of those 287 congresscritters, 74 were members of the New Democratic Coalition, which is affiliated with the DLC. Overall, 25.8% of the Democratic members of the 110th Congress were openly affiliated with the DLC. An additional 31 members of Congress are affiliated with the Blue Dogs, but not with the New Democratic Coalition. If the Blue Dogs are included, the overall DLC-Blue Dog membership in of Democratic congresscritters increases to 36.6%, and 38.1% in the House.

Now, compare this to Obama’s cabinet selections. Of the eighteen cabinet members (not counting Joe Biden, who I have seen listed as a cabinet member at times), sixteen are Democrats. Of those sixteen, eight are affiliated with the DLC, or 50%. Obama’s Democratic cabinet selections have twice the DLC representation of the Democratic membership of Congress. This list does not include Rahm Emanuel, who will be the first White House Chief of Staff during the Obama administration. Nor does it include national security advisor Jim Jones, who supported McCain during the election.

Naturally Bowers’s takeaway from this is that Obama is an evil Republican lite centrist, but it seems to me that that pretty drastically misses the point. Obama’s administration is largely stacked with mainline Democrats heavily identified with the establishment. That they’re to the right of the Congressional median isn’t nearly as important as the fact that the Congressional median is to the left of them. And this is another example of the politics watchers at Open Left curiously displaying very little understanding of the way politics works. Presidential watching is the easy, simplistic venture of pundits and people who don’t really pay much attention to the nuts and bolts of governing. But while the President has a lot of power and autonomy on matters of foreign policy, they have very little as it relates to domestic policy. Obama can unilaterally decide when to withdraw troops from Iraq, and Congress really can’t do anything about it. Indeed, Republicans could have 300 House seats and 60 Senate seats, and they couldn’t force President Obama to keep troops in Iraq if he chose to remove them.

But similarly, the President really can’t force Congress to do anything they don’t want to do in the realm of domestic policy. This is the mistake governors almost always make when they come to the White House, as their experience with line item vetoes accustoms them to having a large degree of control over their legislators (I mean you wouldn’t want some vital spending for your district getting vetoed, or having your constituents singled out for a year would you?) and by extension largely being able to bend the legislature to their will. But Presidents just don’t have that sort of power, and their domestic policy agenda often gets bogged down early in Congress. That’s certainly the lesson Bill Clinton learned when Republicans and conservative Democrats blocked his healthcare bill. And it’s not exactly clear how Bill Clinton being more liberal could have changed that. A more left leaning Congress, on the other hand, would have made the outcomes much different.

So the fact that Congress is currently positioned to the left of the Obama administration, and certainly to the left of where Congress was in 1993, is actually a very positive development.