The Do-Nothing Congress of 2012

If there’s a Question of the Day, it must be from Stuart Rothenberg: Should Obama Run Against Congress?

Here’s the thinking behind it:

Running against Congress seems like a potentially fruitful strategy for President Barack Obama, especially because the recent CBS News/New York Times survey found that Republicans in Congress have a lower approval than Democrats in Congress, 19 percent compared with 28 percent.

Democratic consultants and strategists I have talked with recently don’t have any easy answers for the White House in trying to improve the president’s uncertain prospects for a second term. But most of them say that running against Congressional Republicans probably is what Obama can and should do, at least until he has another Republican target.


That “another Republican target” means, of course, the eventual GOP nominee. It doesn’t really matter who the nominee is, either, in the sense that the President will go after him with a fury that will make the Bush Machine attacks on John Kerry look like a Rembrandt portrait. With high unemployment, the economy skipping along the bottom (or worse by next year), Solyndra, Gunwalker, and all the rest, character assassination is about the only tool the Administration has left. It’s going to be nasty — but we knew that already.

I suppose the President has to do something campaign-like until then, and Congress is the thing to campaign against. But to what effect?

Sure, Congress is unpopular. But why Congress is unpopular is the question we need to ask. Some of the negatives are natural, they’re built in to the system. Americans don’t like Congress because we don’t like government and Congress writes the laws. Asking Americans to like Congress is like asking us to like colonoscopies: We’ll submit when we must, but otherwise — back off, pal.

Democrats don’t like Congress because half of it is run by Republicans and the other half is run by Harry Reid. Any of our Donkey friends looking for love in either of those places is going to come away disappointed.


Republicans don’t like Congress because half of it is run by Democrats and the other half isn’t doing what they sent them there to do — cut spending and the deficit. Sure, that’s just not possible with Reid and Obama in the way, but that probably just makes the frustration even worse. It’s tough when you win an historic election and still can’t get the job done.

So what does Obama get out of running against Congress? I don’t know if he gets anything at all. Already, Senate Democrats are getting tired of having to wear the President’s target on their backs. On the other side, Paul Ryan must be loving the increased exposure he gets, courtesy of Obama’s attacks. And he even got enough color on his face this summer to look amazingly lifelike when he goes on TV.

Long term, there’s another problem with running against Congress: Voter exhaustion. After a months of going negative, will there be anyone left to listen when Obama goes super-negative on the GOP’s presidential nominee?

I’ll pay attention — because I have to. Ordinary voters, who don’t clue in until the election is in full swing, will wonder what happened to Mr. Hopenchange. And more involved voters might slowly tune out the President’s words, until he becomes a faint and annoying buzz in the background.


But if Obama thinks he can still turn out his base, then maybe turning off everyone else really is the only strategy he has left.


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