The president matters -- even when he doesn't
One of the ways to think about the difficulties facing the legislative process is that the most important player in congressional elections doesn't have a vote in Congress. Here's political scientist Alan Abramovitz.
This brings up the most important point about evaluations of Congress. They have very little influence on how Americans vote in congressional elections. When it comes to choosing candidates for Congress, it is opinions of the president’s performance that matter.
More here. It's hard to see how you can find much bipartisanship under these circumstances. If the president's success is the best predictor of the minority's defeat, the minority can't let the president succeed. But there's no way to keep the president from succeeding politically while still helping him govern effectively. So they just block both things from happening.
Given these incentives, and the finding that issues become more polarized when the president takes a position on them, what you'd ideally want the president to do is stay out of the process as much as possible. But if our system is tilted away from presidential power, our political culture is entirely about the president. And so there are constant calls for the president to take firmer hand with Congress and to retool his communications strategy and to rescue legislation he supports. That's the context for the health-care summit. The president is trying to fulfill expectations that he'll be central to a negotiation process that offers him no natural role.
Photo credit: J. Scott Applewhite/AP.
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