Wednesday, January 04, 2012

If You Want To Advance the Centrist Democratic Agenda ...

... then you might hope that Romney wins the election in November.  Here's my thinking on this crazy notion.

We know what Washington looks like if Obama is President but the Democrats don't have the House and don't have 60 votes in the Senate.  Republicans dig in.  The Democratic agenda doesn't move forward.  It's gridlock.  If Obama is re-elected but the Congress doesn't shift strongly Democratic, we can expect more of the same. That's just the way it is with Republicans on Capitol Hill these days.  We can speculate as to whether House Republicans would feel more or less empowered opposing a re-elected Obama.  Maybe less right after the election, but growing over time as Obama becomes more of a lame duck President.  And history doesn't favor an improvement for the Democrats in the 2014 midterm elections if they control the White House.

But now consider what happens if it is President Romney.  We can presume that if there was enough sentiment to make that happen, the Republicans will not have lost ground in Congress.  So what is Romney's record in the organizations that he has run?  It has been pointed out many times that he does not seem to be driven by ideological principles.  It is less often emphasized what he is driven by.  He is results oriented.  He tries to turn things around and add value.  It was true at Bain.  It was true in the 2002 Winter Olympics.  And, most instructively, it was true of his time as Governor of Massachusetts. 

So how would a President Romney get things done?  He wouldn't make the mistake of trying to transcend politics.  He would play politics to the hilt.  Unencumbered by restrictive ideological principles, he would work very hard to get 60 votes in the Senate while retaining a majority in the House, so that he could take credit for the results while he's in office. The need to get those 60 votes in the Senate is what allows the centrist part of the Democratic agenda to move forward.

I believe that the way to understand the Romney campaign is simply to acknowledge that his ambition is to be the guy in charge who gets things done on the grandest scale possible.  That means being President.  Nothing he has to say or do in the process of getting elected will substantially affect what he does when he gets there.  And that would be good news for centrist Democrats, even if it would be a bitter pill to swallow.


Anonymous said...

I think your view is naive. Romney will jump when the BigMoney says jump.

Alan Wolfe explained it best:

But like all politicians, conservatives, once in office, find themselves under constant pressure from constituents to use government to improve their lives. This puts conservatives in the awkward position of managing government agencies whose missions--indeed, whose very existence--they believe to be illegitimate.

Contemporary conservatism is a walking contradiction. Unable to shrink government but unwilling to improve it, conservatives attempt to split the difference, expanding government for political gain, but always in ways that validate their disregard for the very thing they are expanding. The end result is not just bigger government, but more incompetent government.

jonny bakho

Andrew Samwick said...

For the reasons I outlined, I don't think Romney is like other recent Republicans. As his rivals in the current contest like to point out, he hasn't governed like one in the past. I think it may be because his roots are in an earlier Republican era when the "walking contradiction" was less apparent.

I like the Wolfe quote. It reminds me of this quote from Krugman from the same month:

"Apologists for the administration will doubtless claim that blame for the lack of progress rests not with Mr. Bush, but with the inherent inefficiency of government bureaucracies. That's the great thing about being an antigovernment conservative: even when you fail at the task of governing, you can claim vindication for your ideology."

Brooks (Gordon L.) said...


You could be right that he would be exceptionally pragmatic. In discussions with some on the right I've pointed out that what they view as a negative I view as a positive -- that, because he is apparently devoid of convictions, he'd be inclined to make necessary deals to mitigate/solve problems (most notably medium/long-term deficit-reduction) rather than stand on principle as problems fester.

That said, the potential negative I see in his convictionlessness is that, if this is all about ego rather than (as you believe) results per se, he may be exceptionally inclined to do whatever maximizes his chances at re-election. I have to view as a wild card a politician who seems very willing to flip to the extraordinary degree as Romney has, all the while claiming passionate conviction behind his beliefs and positions, taking whatever position and serving up whatever rhetoric he thinks maximizes his chance at winning the election.

Andrew Samwick said...

That is a potential negative. But I presume you agree with the comparative statements -- we know how the House Republicans will behave if Obama is elected but they retain their majority. Nothing will get done.

Anonymous said...

I am not certain what you mean by the "Centrist Democratic Agenda"?

Obama (a deficit hawk) is on the conservative (DLC) wing of the Democratic Party. His economic policy is somewhere to the right of GHW Bush. The Obama economic policy is not much different from Bush policy and is in fact run by Republicans Geithner and Bernanke.

The House Republican policy is the budget busting, unworkable, Paul Ryan budget. The BigMoney is behind the Ryan proposal. How would a President Romney be able to deliver much other than the Ryan budget? Or do you consider the Ryan budget to be "Centrist Democratic"?

The Republican economic policy is
1. Cut taxes on the wealthy (Always happens)
2. ??????Leap of Faith??????? (I have a bridge for sale...)
3, TrickleDown works, the economy roars and budget deficits disappear- Morning in America. (Never happens)

Bruce Bartlett pulled all his hair out over this.

jonny bakho

Anonymous said...

From my perspective, some of these proposals are radical departures from the status quo: Are these proposals a "Centrist Democratic Agenda"? Maybe compared to Santorum who is way out there.

From the Mitt Romney Website:

"Cut Federal Spending

Immediately cut non-security discretionary spending by 5 percent

Reform and restructure Medicaid as block grant to states

Align wages and benefits of government workers with market rates

Reduce federal workforce by 10 percent via attrition

Undertake fundamental restructuring of government programs and services

Cap federal spending at 20 percent of GDP

Pursue a Balanced Budget Amendment

Maintain current tax rates on personal income

Maintain current tax rates on interest, dividends, and capital gains

Eliminate taxes for taxpayers with AGI below $200,000 on interest, dividends, and capital gains

Eliminate the death tax

Pursue a conservative overhaul of the tax system over the long term that includes lower, flatter rates on a broader base"

A GOP Congress would push this agenda even further to the Ryan.

- jonny bakho

Andrew Samwick said...

Centrist Democrat is the least left-wing policies that Democratic Senators can propose that will secure 60 votes in the Senate while carrying a Republican-led majority in the House.

Brooks (Gordon L.) said...


I think you're comparative view is certainly plausible, but not necessarily how the scenarios would play out.

Although a President Romney could use the bully pulpit and/or private persuasion to get Republicans to compromise to a greater degree, and although absence of a Democratic president would remove one incentive for Republicans to be generally opposed to compromise, ultimately the president has no vote in Congress (other than tie-breaker in Senate via VP), so it's up the the same Republicans (and more of them) to decide how much they wish to compromise. And it's possible they would feel so emboldened by a Republican victory for the presidency (combined with gains in Congress) that they would be even less inclined to compromise than if (just possibly) a bit humbled by an Obama re-election (and by "humbled" I really mean reassessing their political calculus -- how a given degree of compromise would affect their own chances at re-election).

So it's hard (for me, at least) to say how things would shake out under either scenario, Romney or Obama.