This was the title of Woodrow Wilson’s book written in the 1880s, in which he argued that parochial congressional committee chairs wielded too much power. During the Bush Administration, there was a great deal of criticism about unaccountable executive power. President Obama vowed to take a different tack. The result is an unusual amount of deference to Congress on issues such as the stimulus or health care. Perhaps my assessment is premature, but that is not working out well for the reasons that Wilson described long ago. Members of Congress have a difficult time looking beyond the interests of their district, and without presidential leadership their legislation can become incoherent.
I was struck the other day by this thought. Obama was heralded for his oratory during the campaign. So how many Oval Office Addresses has he given to rally the country in support of his plans? None. Sure, he’s done lots of other media, but none of it carries any punch that might put pressure on Congress from the voters. Presumably this is because Obama is trying to play nice in the hope that this will be more productive. But it’s a strategy that FDR or Ronald Reagan would not (and did not) follow.