Obama’s X-Factor: Closer, Democrats Face the Unknown

Former Representative Buddy Darden of Georgia, one of the casualties of the Republican revolution in 1994, said part of the problem back in 1992 was that House leaders failed to stand up to Mr. Clinton, and put individual members at risk.

“Our big mistake and the mistake of our leadership in the House was that they didn’t push back enough against President Clinton, and then consequently we probably took some votes that we didn’t need to take,” he said. “There could have been some concessions made that could have brought the vast majority of the caucus on board.”

Former Texas representative Charles Stenholm, who led the conservative Democratic challenge against Mr. Clinton’s budget in 1993, said that House liberals “don’t have the votes to move to an extreme leftist agenda. That would mean the Blue Dogs, the majority of them, would have to vote for that agenda, and if they do, they will have a very tough time getting reelected in 2010. I think you are going to see as president the same kind of effort that he has made as a campaigner, which is that he has moved pretty much to the center.”

Mr. Stenholm added, “Where Clinton got in trouble was he listened to a few people with very strong opinions of where the administration should go, and they caused disruption within the party. When he listened to them, he got in trouble and we got in trouble.”

Mr. Panetta said Mr. Obama would probably have to form different coalitions as he went, and argued that the only way Mr. Obama could avoid such damaging collisions with Congress was “if he does something that Clinton didn’t do and clearly tells the American public what he wants to do. That is something that Bill Clinton never had, a clear message.”

Mr. Panetta said that broad mandate would allow Mr. Obama to apply pressure on a broad spectrum of Democrats.

Still, one-party government is never easy. Just ask a president who’s been there.

Speaking at a campaign event for Mr. Weiner on Oct. 23 at Queens College, Mr. Clinton sounded especially serious when he told an audience of mostly Democratic supporters about the dangers of single-party rule in Washington. He was speaking about the Republicans over the past eight years, but he could just have well been detailing his travails in 1993—or the potential perils facing Mr. Obama if the Democrats take control of all three branches of government in 2008.

“President Bush for the first six of his eight years had a Republican Congress that did whatever he said—‘whatever you want you can send it up here and we’ll say O.K.’ It was his great misfortune,” Mr. Clinton said. “You know, there is an old proverb that says life’s greatest curse can be answered prayers. Be careful of what you ask for, because you might get it. So they have been advocating what President Bush has done since the mid-1970s. And they won the presidency a lot but they were never able to fully implement what they had advocated because they never had a Congress who would go along. Then they did, and the American people didn’t like it. They said so in 2006. And in less than two weeks, they are going to say so again in screaming levels of volume.”

jhorowitz@observer.com

Obama’s X-Factor: Closer, Democrats Face the Unknown