Franken: Sleeping through the campaign

  • By Bob Franken
  • Saturday, March 8, 2014 3:25pm
  • Opinion

President Barack Obama seemed to be seeing some wall handwriting at a recent fundraiser, worrying out loud about how Republicans might take over the Senate. He was bemoaning the way the same inspired Democrats who turned out to elect him stay at home, unmotivated during midterms, or as he put it, “We get a little sleepy.”

He has good reason to worry, and not just because the GOP would control both houses of Congress (assuming you want to call John Boehner’s speakership “control”). In particular, he and his team in the White House will pay a huge price if Republicans take over the Senate.

All that has saved the country from their worst instincts is Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid running roughshod over Mitch McConnell and his Republican minority, shredding traditional rules of cooperation in the process. What if McConnell (or his successor, if he’s upset in Kentucky) has the votes to turn the screws on the minority Democrats, in a “turnabout is foul play” scenario? Well, you can kiss any administration initiatives in the last two years of the Barack Obama presidency goodbye.

Not only will Mr. Obama have little say about his agenda except to use his veto pen to block theirs, but his nominations will fall into an “advise and consent” black hole.

That will include judicial choices, which, truth be told, are a chief executive’s most lasting legacies. Federal judges at all levels are there for life, unless they really mess up. But they won’t have any life when their names are submitted to a GOP Senate.

More and more, that plausibility is edging toward possibility, if not probability. The GOP needs to pick up six seats. Thirty-four are up for grabs this year. Most of them are in red states. In some of them, like Alaska and particularly Arkansas, Democratic incumbents, as the man said, are in “deep doo-doo.” Not only that, but Republican extremists are resisting the urge to choose nutcases as candidates. In Texas, of all places, moderation ruled the day as John Cornyn (a moderate by comparison) rolled over a tea party cast of characters that would have opened their side up to constant embarrassment. In Colorado, Ken Buck, a man who can’t speak without causing ridicule, has stepped aside from the GOP Senate race for Congressman Cory Gardner, who has demonstrated an ability to not constantly put his foot in his mouth. Buck will run for Gardner’s seat in the House, where he’d be right at home. All this is bad news to the Democratic incumbent Mark Udall, who will no longer be able to count on Buck’s misogynistic utterances to propel him to another term.

In addition, many of the super-rich are lavishing money on Republican campaigns. Already, organizations led by the infamous Koch brothers have dropped $30 million on Senate races, largely for attack ads against Democrats. And it’s only March. Reid, never a nuance kinda guy, in an unusual move, went to the Senate floor to dump on the Kochs: “What is un-American is when shadowy billionaires pour unlimited money into our democracy to rig the system to benefit themselves and the wealthiest 1 percent.”

Democrats like Harry Reid want to somehow roust supporters from their hibernation by issuing dire warnings and trying to find ways to exploit a general disgust over economic inequality. That explains their incessant push of minimum-wage legislation. But Republicans have their own issue. We all know what it is — it was handed to them by those in the Obama ranks who so carelessly fouled up the disastrous startup of the revised health-care system.

So those on the right don’t need to rile up those on their side. They won’t be “sleepy,” and they might very well make Barack Obama’s last two years a nightmare for him.

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