I think both parties need to dump their leadership in both chambers of Congress in order for things to have a shot at turning around. We are in the midst of a strange situation — the Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and the Senate are abysmal, don’t have the influence or power to whip their caucuses in line, aren’t respected by junior members within their own party, can’t work together effectively with the opposition or the President, and yet they are entrenched in their respective leadership positions. It’s as if the coach of a football team was terrible at his job, couldn’t win a game, lost the respect of his players, had no chance at out-coaching the opposition, but couldn’t be fired for some reason.
The House of Representatives isn’t a legislative body; it’s a tar pit. The Senate is no better. A big part of the blame belongs to us. It is our job to toss out shitty, ineffective, inefficient members of Congress. The Senate is tougher to do that with because they have six-year-long terms and only a third or so of the Senators are up for reelection every two years. But we have the ability to make changes in the House of Representatives every two years. We could fire every single member of the House and replace them with someone new in 2014. Will we? Of course not. The voters are partly to blame.
The senior members of the House and Senate — on both sides of the aisle — are largely to blame for the day-to-day bullshit that has brought the government to the place that it has been in for the last six years or so. Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Nancy Pelosi, Kevin McCarthy, and Steny Hoyer should not have jobs. They are the party leaders of the worst Congress in American history. I didn’t include the Senate whips — Dick Durbin and John Cornyn — because I think those two are the only party leaders in Congress who are worth a shit, but I wouldn’t put up a fight if they lost their jobs, too.
The party leaders in the House and the Senate should have control of their respective caucuses at all times. If not, they aren’t leading. I’m stunned at how little respect many of the junior members of Congress — even freshmen in the House of Representatives! — have for the leaders of their own party. Raul Labrador, a Republican member of the House, was elected in 2010. In 2011, as a freshman Congressman, Labrador stood up in a GOP conference told John Boehner, the Speaker of the House, “I didn’t come to Washington to be part of a team.” That’s right, as the Speaker of the House of Representatives — one of the five most powerful positions in the country when there is someone useful in the job — implored his fellow Republicans to work together, a freshman Congressman from Idaho straight up told him no in front of every other House Republican. Speaker Boehner should have remembered that disrespect and in 2012, he should have CRUSHED Labrador. He should have withheld RNC money from Labrador. He should have built up a primary challenger against Labrador. He should have pulled together every powerful Republican that can breathe and walk, flown them to Idaho, and campaigned against Labrador. Instead? Nothing. Labrador was reelected last year. That’s just one example.
The Democrats are just as bad. They control the Senate and they have a Democrat in the White House. But Harry Reid is the Senate Majority Leader and the Democrat from Nevada is, hands-down, the worst Majority Leader in American history. Nobody is intimidated by him, nobody is influenced by him, nobody respects him. And why should they? Why should the White House defer to him? In 2011, Vice President Biden met with Senator Reid to help pass the two-year extension to the Bush-era tax cuts. The White House wasn’t ecstatic about the deal that they made with Republicans to extend the tax cuts, but politics require compromises. Progress requires compromise.
So, when the Democratic President sent his Vice President to settle the issue with the Democratic Senate Majority Leader, how did Harry Reid decide to help out his President and Vice President? He said this to the President and Vice President of the United States:
"You guys went and did this deal. You go sell it. Not my deal, not my problem. Not telling you I’m against it, not telling you I’m for it, not yelling at you, just saying you guys made this deal. Hope you can line up the Senate Democrats behind you because I’m not going to."
Harry Reid wasn’t taking a stand because of a strong, ideological position that he was absolutely opposed to compromising on. No, Harry Reid was acting like a fucking baby because the White House closed a deal that Harry Reid simply couldn’t do on his own. If FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, JFK, LBJ, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton, or Bush 43 were President, Harry Reid would be working in a pawn shop in Las Vegas tonight. But Harry Reid is still the Senate Majority Leader.
I know that I am ranting, but the whole subject pisses me off because the problems are so clear and the solutions are so simple. The party leadership — Majority and Minority, Democrats and Republicans — from both chambers of Congress — House and Senate — NEED TO GO.
There is one more person who deserves some blame for how shitty the 112th Congress (9% approval rating, by the way) was and the 113th Congress has been, and he’s not a member of Congress: President Barack Obama. As I mentioned above, every President since Franklin D. Roosevelt, with the exception of Jimmy Carter, would have absolutely smashed individual members of the House and Senate, specific blocs of voters, and each chamber of Congress as a whole if they had been as intransigent, disrespectful, and ineffective as these last two Congresses have been. It wouldn’t have gotten as bad with many of those Presidents because they either had a mastery of the legislative process or they used the bully pulpit of the Presidency to win the public opinion war. President Obama has done none of these things. Junior Senators and freshman House members from Obama’s own party have no problem openly criticizing the President or opposing Administration goals. That should NEVER happen. Joe Manchin should be working in a coal mine in West Virginia instead of taking shots at his own President whenever he feels like it. Manchin’s predecessor, Robert Byrd, earned the right to be independent whenever he wanted, but even after 50 years in the Senate, Byrd knew to support his President. What’s even worse is that Obama’s top Cabinet members are legendary Senators — Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. Whenever a President wants something from his Democrats on the Hill, he should get it. If not, Biden, Kerry, and Hagel should be laying the "Johnson Treatment” on anyone who needs it. They have to because Obama obviously doesn’t have that weapon in his arsenal. As embarrassing as Obama’s influence with his fellow Democrats on Capitol Hill has been, can you imagine how bad it would be without Joe Biden doing the dirty work with Congress over the past four years?
There’s a lot of anger in this post and I know that it is all over the place, but I am truly angry about this subject. As I said, the problems are clear and the solutions are obvious. And the past 80 years of Presidential/Congressional relations are a blueprint for what works and what doesn’t. We need new party leaders on both sides of the aisle in both chambers of Congress. And we need a President whose approach to dealing with useless Congresses and intransigent, disrespectful Congressmen is more FDR/Eisenhower/LBJ than Carter/Obama.
I’ve been thinking about the last question I got about Speaker John Boehner saying that he isn’t going to negotiate with President Obama anymore and about how generally terrible Congress is and I came to a thought.
The Speaker of the United States House of Representatives is next in line to the Presidency after the Vice President. The Speaker controls the flow of legislation in the House and is easily the most influential member of the Legislative branch — probably the third or fourth most powerful person in the country. The Speaker is an enormously important component to the political process in the United Sates.
It requires a simple majority of the votes of 435 people, many of whom are casting ballots on the first day of their new job in Congress, to elect the Speaker of the House. The voting is almost always done along strict party lines. John Boehner will probably be Speaker until January 3, 2015. It only took 200 people to decide that. Although the Speaker of the House is a tremendously powerful person who influences the lives of every American in many ways, John Boehner is really only accountable to the 8th Congressional District of Ohio. Nancy Pelosi was really only accountable to the 8th Congressional District of California.
Understanding all of this, shouldn’t we choose the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives in a national election? Shouldn’t candidates for the Speaker have to face all of the voters of our country? Shouldn’t all Americans help make that decision?
Listen, the midterm elections are neither as rare or damaging to the Presidency as people might think. Almost every President gets his ass handed to him in the first midterm elections of their Presidency. Either change doesn’t happen quickly enough or the opposition party is more motivated to get out the vote and push their candidates when the election following the Presidential election comes around.
The 1994 midterm debacle for President Clinton was actually the best thing to ever happen to his Presidency. It swung the ball into the hands of Newt Gingrich’s Republicans, saddling them with the ambitious Contract With America, and forced Clinton to fight, instead of attempt to coast on his 1992 victory. Clinton got organized, learned how to use the Presidency effectively, cleaned house, and became focused. He was unstoppable against a wide field of not-so-impressive Republican Presidential candidates in 1996.
Can’t you see the same thing happening? Obama needs to clean house (and soon — both in the White House and the Cabinet), get organized, stop focusing on campaigns (he has nine or ten months before he has to start worrying about 2012), use his office effectively, and fight back. His field of potential 2012 opponents is vast and none of them stand out, much like the Republican field aligning against Clinton in 1996.
Best of all for Obama, he’s not handcuffed anymore by the historically ineffective Congressional leadership that his party had in place in the House of Representatives. John Boehner will be tough and he is the opposition, but it’s easier to fight an opponent than your ally. Obama’s been fighting against crappy Democratic leadership in the House (and Senate, but he still might be stuck with Harry Reid for a while) since his Inauguration. This midterm election could be the best thing to happen to Obama’s Presidency. In fact, it could be the very thing that saves it. Barack Obama is a ferociously dangerous underdog. If you don’t believe me, ask Hillary Clinton.