2014 MIDTERM ELECTIONS:
OBAMA NEEDS TO GAIN WORKING MAJORITIES
IN BOTH CHAMBERS OF CONGRESS
Tu ne quaesieris
Ask not, for thou shalt not find it, what my end, what thine shall be;
Ask not of Chaldea’s science what God wills, Leuconoe:
Better far, what comes, to bear it. Haply many a wintry blast
Waits thee still; and this, it may be, Jove ordains to be thy last,
Which flings now the flagging sea-wave on the obstinate sandstone reef.
Be thou wise: fill up the wine-cup, shortening, since the time is brief,
Hopes that reach into the future. While I speak, hath stol’n away
Jealous Time. Mistrust tomorrow, catch the blossoms of today.
Quintus Horatius Flaccus (“Horace”) (65 – 8 B.C.E), tr. Charles Stuart Calverly.
If President Obama’s last two years in office are not to be
a complete waste of time, just this once, in connection with the 2014 election,
which will create a new membership in the House of Representatives and a
one-third new membership in the Senate, all politics had better NOT be
local. For it seems to me that the
conventional wisdom that what is good for (e.g.) Virginians is good for the
U.S.A. will not hold. The people of each
State must come to the conclusion, themselves, that what is good for the U.S.A.
will be good for Virginians, et al.
The framers of the Constitution did not believe in
political parties. Their delicate
equilibrium of government checks and balances did not apply to political
parties; political parties are nowhere mentioned in the Constitution. The framers never conceived of a situation
where a President of one political party would be forced to govern through a
Legislature controlled and dominated by another political party bearing an
entirely different philosophy of government.
Historically, most of the times, where party conflicts
have threatened to stall needed government action, cooperation has won
out. Frequently cited examples are those
of Democratic Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson and Speaker of the House
Sam Rayburn working collegially with Republican President Dwight Eisenhower or Democratic
Speaker “Tip” O’Neill and Republican President Ronald Reagan managing to find
the same governing wavelengths, including such difficult topics as Social
What the people of this country now face is bifurcated government where the separations
over ideology are reinforced by a level of spite by congressional Republicans
against a Democratic President never before witnessed. That spite work is best exemplified by
Republican opposition to initiatives previously developed by Republicans,
themselves, and then opposed ONLY because these have been adopted by the White
House as part of the Administration’s legislative agenda. Trying to govern, Obama has no choice but to
proffer remedial legislation that once enjoyed bipartisan support; however, as
soon as he endorses what Republicans have said they supported, such endorsement
becomes a virtual “kiss of death.” In my
old college dictionary, spite, as a noun, means “petty ill will or hatred with
the disposition to irritate, annoy, or thwart,” and as a verb means “to treat
maliciously (as by shaming or thwarting).”
Republicans, am I not thus holding a mirror up to your nature?
I once put the seemingly anachronistic question as to how a Republican dominated
Congress would have reacted to President Obama’s proposing a National Highway
System, which could not have become law under President Eisenhower without
Democratic congressional support. You
Republicans know the answer to that one, too.
As it turns out, that example has turned out to be far from outdated,
because we may fairly equate President Eisenhower’s initiative with President
Obama’s proposals to modernize, upgrade, and create innovative solutions to the
nation’s 21st century infrastructure needs. Why, man, Republicans won’t even entertain
the establishment of a previously agreed upon infrastructure bank!
The momentum toward reinforcing Republican dominance in the Congress through the
elections of 2014 is merrily rolling along.
I cited the example of Virginia because there we see what “all politics
are local” is shaping up to mean. The
Republicans are already using the impending state elections to gather an
unprecedented head of bigoted steam. All
politics are local is going to mean the exploitation by Republicans of every
insular prejudice, the demagogue of every invidious comparison or allusion, and
the special pleading that coaxes voters into making choices against their own
The Democrats, on the other hand, are so ambivalent about
the dubious merits of this Chief Executive’s incumbency, even if they
contemplated making the 2014 race about granting Obama working majorities in
Congress, they would probably be reluctant to do so, because they dare not cast
so irretrievable a die. At long last,
this Administration may have to come to terms with the sad truth that Obama’s
speeches (beginning at the latest on gun control) have long since reached the outer
limits of the law of diminishing marginal returns. In a way, for all my criticisms of Obama, and
they have been many and frequent, my heart really does go out to the man whose
nobility of purpose has been so frustrated.
I fear that for all his high flown phrases, he is beginning to sound
like another potentially great American who managed, in the long run, to turn
himself into nothing more than a giant windbag; I mean, of course, William
Obama is not Bryan.
Bryan lost the Presidency three times (1896, 1900 and 1908), whereas
Obama was elected twice (2008 and 2012).
Every time I hear another well-turned Obama phrase hurled at yet another
captive audience, my experience in the mental hygiene field kicks in to tell me
I am really hearing, more than anything of substance, a cry for help. With
two more years to go, Obama need not be an entirely lost cause. Only the American people, speaking as with
one voice, can break the logjam crippling our Government today, and allow the
President and the Congress, to work together.
Can the American people, for once, address a dire national need in the
course of a midterm election?
Before the rebirth of racism, with the advent of the “Tea
Party,” and their refusal to acknowledge the legitimacy of the first black
President, Americans had demonstrated a national characteristic so profound as
to cause me, at least, to have to reach out to the largely mysterious field of
theoretical physics and call it a “singularity.” In the wake of the Civil Rights movement, and
its achievements, I did not see an American people suddenly become UNprejudiced. There was no Dickensian alteration in the
American character: people remained much as they had always been: fearful of
strangers and resistant to change. The
singularity that stunned the world was the capacity of the American people to
set aside their prejudices for the greater good of the country, as a whole. As it turned out, Martin Luther King had not
been St. Anthony preaching to the fishes; Dr. King had been a leader speaking
to a great and good People.
For the 2014 election, the Democratic Party (and perforce
the country) need someone with the leadership skills and the organizational
ability to persuade the electorate to turn aside from the prejudices
Republicans will seek to inflame and reignite everywhere, but turn the election
to one purpose, and one purpose ONLY: to give this President, not as he was in
2009, but as he must be in 2015, a clear mandate and a full Congressional
working majority. And above all, Obama,
himself, must relinquish the role of Chief Lecturer and simply, repeatedly lay
out an achievable, workable, worthwhile legislative program for his last two
years. Except in one particular – he
absolutely, positively must resist the temptation to inject himself further into
the immigration reform debate, because the Republicans REALLY need that Bill,
and Obama’s intrusion, in that case, would truly act as the aforementioned kiss
Harvard Hollenberg is a writer and an appellate attorney in New York City.
© Copyright Harvard Hollenberg 2013. All rights reserved.