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The Dead Duck Congress

With nothing to lose, will they go for broke?

Feb 1, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 19 • By TOD LINDBERG
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This in turn invites the conclusion among Democrats themselves, soon if not quite yet, that their majority has been tried and found guilty, the execution date set, and that all appeals will be in vain. Following the election of a successor, and sometimes sooner than that when they are ineligible to run again, presidents whose terms are expiring are said to be lame ducks. Call this a “dead duck” Congress.

But is a dead duck lame? Maybe not. As the health care reform effort dragged on and became increasingly unpopular, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi must have foreseen the possibility of losses in 2010 (including Reid’s own seat). But they seemed to think setting a path to universal health care, the missing piece of FDR’s New Deal as they saw it, was worth paying a price. Now, the majorities may be gone, the price already paid.

Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose. Is it possible that a rational Democratic response to the current political climate is to forget about trying to rebuild popular support, which is gone for 2010, and do the right thing—or the left thing, in this case? Take the remaining months of your majority and use it to advance the Democratic agenda across all fronts, regardless of political consequences. In the worst-case scenario, at least you would accomplish something consequential on the way to your grave.

It would be difficult to pull off. The biggest tension would be between the Democratic majority as a collective, with a sense of itself as doomed, and individual members who believe that they can survive. If there are too many of the latter from swing districts, the working liberal majority in the House goes “plouffe.” The biggest asset, oddly enough, might be moderate Democrats who have taken a look at what’s ahead and are deciding to retire. If their moderation was primarily driven not by their convictions but by constituent politics, they can now vote their hearts.

Following the Democratic takeover of the House in 2006, the lame-duck president George W. Bush pulled off a stunning display of political leadership. He ignored the anti-Iraq war election result and the emerging Washington establishment supermajority favoring withdrawal and launched the surge that averted disaster. The duck was not so lame.

It would be no small task for Democrats to organize something similar on the domestic front in the time they have between now and November. Frustration and dissolution are more likely. But the door is open to a last stand and the declaration to Ted Kennedy’s ghost that we who are about to die salute you.



Tod Lindberg, a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard, is a fellow at the Hoover Institution and editor of Policy Review



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