Thursday, November 6, 2014

Off Topic: The Opportunity for Democrats

Off Topic: The Opportunity for Democrats

Some Democrats are soul-searching and others are looking ahead to 2016 after losing control of the Senate, ceding additional seats in the House of Representatives, and giving up two more governorships.  Instead they should be looking forward to January 2015 and backwards at January 1953.  In November 1952 President Eisenhower swept into office and toppled Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress. One man above all saw the opportunity and the potential for power: the junior first-term Senator from Texas.  Lyndon B. Johnson had been elected in 1948 by a mere 87-vote margin, but once in office he understood where to find and how to use power. 

Where is the opportunity to seize power in the US Government as we await the 114th Congress?  I bet Senator Johnson would have seen the opening all the way from his ranch in the hill country of Texas.  The minority leader of the Senate is going to hold the balance of power.  While the Senate Majority Leader and House Speaker try to keep their members in line, and the President attempts to engage a Republican controlled Congress, the Minority Leader is the key player in this equation.  Nothing of substance will clear the Senate or reach the President’s desk without somewhere between five and six Democratic votes.  From Senator Elizabeth Warren on the left to Senator Joe Manchin on the right, Democrats ought to recognize is that ideology is meaningless if you don’t first have some power.  So Senate Democrats need to bury their ideological differences and elect a Minority Leader who knows how to use the rules of the Senate to wield raw political power. 

Instead of trying to assign blame for the loss, someone needs to grab the reigns of power.  I’d suggest they read Chapter 21 (“The Whole Stack”) and Chapter 22 (“Masterstrokes”) in Robert Caro’s Master of the Senate.  Mr. Caro shows us how Senator Johnson managed to win the role of Minority Leader and then use it to project power.

I don’t know who that person should be, but I do know it can’t be Senator Reid.  Commanding the majority and leading the minority are two very different tasks.  Democratic Senators need a new face to lead their members.  Democrats had better hope that someone is working the phones like Senator Johnson did in late 1952.

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