What If the Republicans Win the House?
I don't like to even think about what the next Congress will be like if the Republicans take over the House. How many of the mistakes they made in 1995 will be repeated? Will they shut the government down again? Will they harass the president with baseless investigations? Will they initiate impeachment hearings on flimsy or delusional evidence? Will the president ever sign a bill again? Will the Republicans avoid repeating certain mistakes, having learned the lessons of the recent past?
It's impossible to know all the answers to these questions. The specter of impeachment hangs in the air, but its probability appears quite low. A government shutdown, on the other hand, would appear hard to avoid. And there's no question that the Committee on Oversight and Investigations, now chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa of California, would begin sending subpoenas to the White House by the truckload.
On one level, things would be considerably worse than in 1995. Then, as now, there was a certain unarticulated rage at Washington, particularly around the budget deficit. Then, as it would be now, the freshman class of Republicans was filled with ideological purists pledged to make no compromise as they went about slashing cherished government programs. A Speaker Boehner would have the same problem that Speaker Gingrich faced in reining in his base and actually passing anything resembling a federal budget. But back then the Republicans had some actual policy objectives in common with the president (like Welfare Reform and deregulation) and they had some ideas (like term limits) to address that unarticulated rage. To a certain degree, after a year of brutal turbulence, Gingrich and Clinton were able to meet in the middle. I don't see how, or on what issues, that could happen this time.
When a party sweeps into power on a political wave, it normally has some momentum for some kind of legislative action, but the Republicans haven't presented realistic ideas that poll well with the American public. If they win big in November, their only mandate would be to prevent the government from passing any more bills. If the Senate fell as well, Obama would need an industrial-size fan to keep his veto pen cool. Otherwise, the Senate would increase its present practice of ignoring 95% of what the House does.
The Republicans' prospects of winning back the White House don't look very good at the moment, largely because they don't have any obvious candidates that have what it takes, but also because winning a Republican primary in this environment appears to be an exercise in extremism. But their chances will get decidedly worse if a little air gets let out of the progressive balloon this November. It's really unprecedented for a party to win four straight election cycles, so the Democrats would benefit from some minor losses that don't severely impact their ability to govern. A House takeover, however, could set the stage for another, much bigger Democratic wave election 2012. A Republican House will reunite and reenergize the progressive base, rally all non-whites to the Democratic side, set the Establishment media (and the Establishment itself) firmly in Obama's camp, and set the Republican nominee up for historic failure.
Having said that, I don't want to live through the intervening turbulence and unpleasantness. I still hope we can lance this boil rather than seeing it rupture like an infected pustule all over our political culture.