by Steve Paikin Thursday March 5, 2009

What does history tell us about the success that American presidents enjoy, when those presidents, the House of Representatives, and the Senate are all held by the same party?


National Post columnist Theo Caldwell recently took an audience at the University of Toronto's Faculty Club through that question. He noted ten times since 1945 have both houses and the president been on the same side. And yet, the record does not suggest universal joy and bliss. 


Jimmy Carter's relations with the Democratic Congress were awful, Caldwell says. Carter was seen as an outsider and therefore he had a devil of a time getting things through Congress. 


Bill Clinton had strong majorities in both houses of Congress. Then two years later, he lost it to Newt Gingrich's conservative revolution. 


George W. Bush entered office in 2000 with majorities in both houses for the Republicans. One Republican senator named Jim Jeffords switched camps and there went the majority in the Senate. Then in 2006, it was a debacle for the Republicans in the House as well. So much for Bush's coattails. 


Caldwell points to Obama and sees similar trends. In Obama's first three weeks in office, every problem the president has had to deal with has come to his desk courtesy of his own Democratic party, not the Republicans. 


* the Buy American provisions of the stimulus package, which had every industrialized nation around the world crying foul. 


* the difficulty in filling certain cabinet jobs, in some cases because nominees hadn't paid their taxes, in one other  because the Republican nominee withdrew after initially accepting. 


* apparent conflicts of interest unacknowledged. Caldwell says Congressman David Obey's son Craig works in the National Parks Service, an organization whose budget went from $800m to $2.2b. 


* Caldwell is also forecasting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will add to Obama's headaches in the months to come, as her "San Francisco Liberalism" will appear to be increasingly offside from much of middle America. 


Caldwell concludes that it's time to stop drinking the Obama kool-aide. "The last two presidencies have been two sides of the same psychosis," he says. "We hated George W. Bush  with an irrational exhuberance, and now we love Barack Obama with the same irrational exhuberance."


Let the record show that Caldwell is an unabashed Republican, who has rubbed shoulders with some of that party's heaviest hitters (see Caldwell, below right with then-President George Bush).




Let the record also show that history has some lessons for the Democrats, if they fail to pull together in the same direction.