Why there’s no substitute for victory in 2010

This piece in the Wall Street Journal considers whether Republicans will be better off if they don’t quite capture control of the House of Representatives in 2010. The case for such a view is: (1) if Republicans are in charge of the House, “they’d take on much more responsibility for what happens in Washington; yet inevitably they would be in charge by such a slim margin they wouldn’t be able to really control much, particularly if Democrats keep control of the Senate, which seems likely” and (2) if Nancy Pelosi is no longer Speaker, President Obama, “freed of some of the need to keep his party’s liberal wing in the House happy” will “find it easier to move to the political center.”
This case is severely flawed. First, even if the Republicans control the House, the public will still recognize that it’s Obama’s game. After the Democrats captured both chambers of Congress in 2006, the public continued to hold Republicans accountable for what occurred in Washington, and the Democrats followed up their big 2006 with a big 2008. Voters are thus able to distinguish between control of the House and control of Washington.
Second, there’s no reason to think that Nancy Pelosi is responsible for President Obama’s left-liberalism. After all, before he was president, Obama was the Senate’s most liberal member. Thus, Obama is a man of the left, and it’s most unlikely that he will move appreciably to the center if the Republicans take the House. It’s true that Bill Clinton changed his tune after 1994. But we should all realize by now that Barack Obama is far more the ideologue than Bill Clinton.
If Obama did move to the center, however, that would be a good thing for the country. And here we come to the other problem with the Republican case for not recapturing Congress: even if this somehow were a good thing for the Party, it would be a bad thing for country.
Consider some of the substantive advantages of taking the House in 2010. First, it would likely end Obama’s ability to enact left-liberal legislation. After the health care debate, Republicans should understand that as long as the Dems have a majority – no matter how small – they have the ability, by virtue of arm-twisting, to carry the day. This will be particularly true if Obama’s standing in the polls improves during 2011 and 2012, which is a distinct possibility.
Second, Republican control of the House would mean subpoena power. This would enable Republicans to investigate abusive behavior by the Obama-controlled bureaucracy and might deter that bureaucracy for engaging in some of the more flagrant abuses that will be tempted to pursue.
Third, Republican control of the House might enable Republicans to obstruct implementation of certain aspects of Obamacare. Repeal, of course, is not possible unless Obama is defeated in 2012, if then. But the more seats the Republicans gain in 2010, the more likely they are to control the House in 2013 and beyond. Incumbency remains an advantage, and in a normal election year, it is a major advantage. Consequently, it’s almost always better to win as many seats as possible, and worry about defending them later.
The most disturbing thing about the Wall Street Journal piece is the statement by Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who is in charge of recruiting Republican candidates for the House, that he has “a group of Republicans who say, ‘I want you to win 37 seats,'” rather than the 41 needed for clear control. Such thinking, to which McCarthy does not subscribe, demonstrates a lack of concern for the welfare of the country.
To the extent that Republicans wish to avoid responsibility for controlling the House in 2011, they betray a lack of fitness to control it thereafter.

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