Lead, Follow, or ...

April 15, 2013 - 5:10 AM
In the '60s a battle cry of anti-war (and anti-Lyndon Johnson) college students was "Lead, follow or get out of the way;" a concept that morphed into lyrics for Bob Dylan's anthem, "The Times They are a'Changin.'"

Come Congressmen, Senators
Please heed the call.
Don't stand in the doorway
Don't block up the hall …


President Obama has tried his version of leading -- which has been mostly attempting to bully Congressional Republicans into submission. It hasn't worked.

For about five minutes after his reelection we were told he was going to spend the next two years helping Democrats regain the U.S. House (after his insistence on a still-indecipherable piece of legislation known as the Affordable Care Act led to its loss in 2010).

It quickly became clear that the technical aspects of redistricting together withs a cracking, if not fracturing Democrat base, wrapped around a stubbornly slow economic recovery were not likely to lead to the desired result; but rather might be seen as Obama's Folly.

His job approval numbers became worrisome as the glow of the November result faded, and the reality of Congressional approval in the mid-teens meant it couldn't get much lower and the general public didn't much care.

Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell, John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi trip off the tongues of those of us within the Beltway and regular viewers of cable news programming, but for most people the federal government is represented by one person: Barack Obama.

Wagging a Presidential finger in the face of Congressional Republicans wasn't working, even Hill Democrats were becoming vocally queasy about the Predator Drone program. The White House insisted the House and Senate show their budgetary hands before the OMB produced the Administration's version and it became clear that there needed to be a course change. Hence the "charm offensive" and a budget that includes Republican-backed ideas like Chained CPI.

Most Republicans will, correctly, complain that there is still far too little attention to the yawning debt divide, and too much attention on punishing success; but that's an argument for another time and place.

The President has backed down to a significant degree from his anti-Bain positions of the Presidential campaign because he appears to have finally recognized that in the American system if you're in the majority (or in the White House) you have an obligation to help govern.

Many House Republicans have not yet indicated they have learned that lesson. True, they have voted on, and passed, jobs bills, economic bills, tax bills (well, you know what I mean) and recently a budget.

But, they have used the rules of the House - "If I have one more vote than you, I own and control everything" - learned at the cost of 40 years of Democrat rule until 1995, to pass legislation they knew had no chance of even coming to the floor of the Senate much less getting through.

For professional observers of the system, it was fun to watch the 60+ House freshmen march into the House Chamber like actors in the barricade scene of yet another staging of Les Misérables: They had wrested control from the Socialists and were going to show American how it's done.

One of the political lessons that has to be learned again and again is this: It is much easier to be a candidate than it is to serve in office.

As a candidate the world is closely delineated in high contrast black and white; a live action film noir. The good guys know what good guys do and the bad guys walk into rooms with their guns poking through the pockets of their overcoats.

When you take office, though, you quickly realize there is almost no program that doesn't obey Newton's Third Law - for every action … - Every dime that is spent has been contributed (either through taxes, fees, or borrowing) from someone. Every dime that is not spent was a dime that someone had planned on receiving.

Don't want a new pipeline? Ok. Then we have to continue paying to protect OPEC oil moving through the Strait of Hormuz.

Don't want to extend unemployment benefits? No problem. You have to answer the mail from families in your district who have lost their home, their car and their self-respect because your bickering has stalled the recovery.

The President's budget is a waste of paper. We all get that. But, if House Republicans don't want to help govern then they should turn the House back to Nancy Pelosi, go to the Paris Air Show, and "don't block up the hall."

On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: The Wikipedia entry for the Bob Dylan song and a link to the latest NBC/WSJ Poll. Also the Mullfoto showing the perfect accoutrements for a Sunday afternoon in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia.