Lately, the Republicans have been playing with the idea that electing John McCain would ensure that "checks and balances" functions at the federal level, while electing Barack Obama would break down all meaningful barriers between the executive and legislative branches. Some have even suggested that Obama, as a political novice, would be content to let Nancy Pelosi and other major party figures call the shots.
I'm not sure how effective this tactic will be, because I doubt the average voter thinks this way. However, Obama has certainly made an effort to distance himself from the far wing of his party, casting himself as a moderate willing to work with both parties. For example, Obama has disputed the National Journal's ranking of him as the most liberal senator in 2007, and in a recent television ad, he tries to sell his health care plan as a middle road between "two extremes."
If Obama does indeed get elected, though, it's difficult to tell exactly how he would govern. He may be attempting to portray himself as a centrist, but undoubtedly much -- if not most -- of this talk is just political pandering. Obama has gone back on promises before (see: public financing).
Indeed, if we look at his record according to Congressional Quarterly, Obama has voted with his party 96 percent of the time, and on key votes, he has voted with his party 97 percent of the time. The reality here certainly doesn't support the image of Obama as a post-partisan change agent.
One of the charges often raised by both Democrats and Republicans against President George W. Bush is that when his party held the power in Congress, he never got out the veto pen to keep congressional Republicans in check, particularly on spending.
A President Obama would have to resist something similar. Based on his record alone, it seems as if Obama would use his office as a rubber stamp for a Democratic Congress, especially if the Democrats expand their majorities in both houses.
This wouldn't be good for America. Most Americans do not affiliate themselves with the extreme wings of either party, nor can any candidate win the election without the support of independents and members of the other party. To run a centrist campaign followed by a partisan administration would be dishonest. An election win should not be seen as an endorsement of all Democratic principles.
If, come January, McCain is sworn in as president, then he'd be forced to compete and compromise with a hostile Congress. If, on the other hand, Obama wins, then he'd only have to work with fellow Democrats. But in order to accomplish anything for the American people and not just the party faithful, he would have to challenge the far left and keep his party in check.
That's a real challenge.