This story was written by Gary Graca, Michigan Daily
Onday one, President Obama will arguably face one of the mostdaunting situations of any U.S. president in the past six decades.Everything is in shambles: our economy, our international prestige, ourmilitary strength and, especially, Americans belief that theirgovernment can fix these things. In four years, Obama is expected tofix it all or face the wrath of an electorate that doesnt oftenunderstand that some of these things take time.
And a majority of Americans thought he has the skills and leadershipto do it, despite his inexperience. Thats a pretty strong mandate fora candidate who was barely known only two years ago.
But this isnt a column about how bad things are or how Obama hasthe right stuff to turn it all around. This is a column about how theway Obama goes about doing these things will matter almost as much aswhat he does. Come Jan. 20, Obama will have one really easy way ofdoing business and one impossibly difficult one and like any humanwould, I expect him to take the easy route, at the expense of unifyingour country and protecting the Constitution.
As you might have guessed, the easy route runs through theoverwhelming Democratic majority in Congress. For at least the next twoyears, Obama will not only have a Democratic majority backing him up inboth the House of Representatives and the Senate, he will only be a fewRepublicans away from a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.
And if the current Democratic Congress is any indication, there willbe a lot of members willing to obey orders instead of use the powersgranted to them by the Constitution. Remember what happened with thoseonce-lauded timetables and funding cuts for the war in Iraq? What aboutour $700 billion bank bailout? In both cases, Congressional Democratswere pretty good at being toothless when they had every reason not tobe.
Couple that unprecedented support in Congress with the executivebranchs already bloated amount of power, and we might as well justking Obama instead of inaugurate him.
Thats not to say I think Obama will intentionally stretch theConstitutions limits or avoid the tough checks from Congress. He hasspoken time and time again about how he believes the Bushadministrations constitutional excesses in the war against terrorismhave chiseled away at our most important document. And as aconstitutional law professor, Obama respects the Constitution hell,he has spent a lifetime studying it.
I worry that Congress wont have the gall to challenge an Obamaadministration, and Obama wont have many bipartisan paths for doingbusiness. For both Obama and Congressional Democrats, taking the easyway out will just be too tempting.
A lot of my worries hinge on what the remaining Republicans inCongress will look like. As best as anyone can guess, they will be aradical group. Several pundits, including New York Times columnist PaulKrugman, have astutely observed that the Congressional Republicans whoabandoned their seats this year were from the relatively moderate wingof the party. Left behind in the House are the entrenched Republicansfrom Newt Gingrichs Republican revolution. In the Senate, there willbe representatives from only the safest Republican states.
At least in the House, these representatives havent beenparticularly well known for their ability to work with others. Theyrebetter known for throwing wrenches into the system. Just look at howHouse Republicans doomed their own partys presidential nominee byblowing up the bank bailout he helped construct. With nothing to lose,these people can be ruthless.
And these are supposed to be the representatives Obama formsbipartisan relations with people willing to sacrifice our economy andone of their own for ideology? How do you realistically work withthat.
The truth is most people dont. You ignore these people when theyarent being reasonable, especially if youre a pragmatist like Obamawho is tired of blindly ideological solutions. And when that doesntwork, you let your colleagues go a little further maybe allow them toeffectively corner the ideologues out of important policymakingprocesses like Hillary Clinton did in 1993. Or maybe you use yourexecutive powers a little more broadly.
That is tempting to do. And I have a feeling Republicans wont makeit any less tempting come January, when the most obnoxious of them willtake the reigns of the party.I hope Obama has the patience to resist the temptation.