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Could Obama Lose Even After He Wins?

In the Washington Post today, Mike Gerson tries to get his tentacles around the conservative defections to Obama:

[Obama] sees himself as the reconciler of opposites, the seer of merit on both sides, the transcender of stale debates. He is the racial healer who understands racial anger. The peace candidate who prefers a more aggressive war in Afghanistan and Pakistan. ... All things being equal, conservatives prefer liberals to be ironic and self-questioning rather than messianic and filled with gleaming-eyed intensity. In Obama's case, this humility might translate into an administration focused on achievable goals, run by seasoned, reasonable professionals (such as Tom Daschle and Dennis Ross), reaching out to Republicans in the new Cabinet and avoiding culture war battles when possible. 

I like the idea of Obama as "ironic and self-questioning," and I think his astonishing ability to appear to be everything to everyone is some of what appeals to conservatives. But, Gerson goes on, Obama's reconciler temperament and his lack of intense passions of his own means he's bound to disappoint his moderate and conservative admirers:

[C]ourage may be required to confront a genuinely radical and passionate Democratic Congress. Following an electoral victory, Obama is likely to face a massive challenge: ... Democratic leaders with large majorities would be pushed by conviction and hubris, and pressured by Democratic constituencies, toward divisive measures that punish and alienate businesses, seek backward-looking political vengeance and impose cultural liberalism. 

You hear this all the time from conservatives: Obama might be okay, maybe, but once in the Oval Office he'll be as effective as a well-intentioned insect in stopping the stampeding behemoth that is the Liberal Congress. But, my friends, it's just not true. Do not expect the Congress sworn in next January to be a left-wing monolith bent on replacing those moribund North Carolina textile plants with leather shops and gun-to-plowshare factories.

Yes, the Democrats are poised to expand their House majority -- but by electing conservative Democrats who, in some cases, have ideologically more in common with John McCain than with Nancy Pelosi. These conservative Democrats -- many of whose districts will vote McCain -- won't feel that they owe Obama, will be well-organized as a faction under the "Blue Dog" banner, and, if their actions in the 110th are any indicator, won't shirk from bucking their party's leadership. Some even view their mandate as to put the brakes on liberals. Check out, for an example, today's Post endorsement of Frank Kratovil, a conservative Democratic candidate vying to turn a red district in Maryland blue (I've also got a story on him in this issue). The endorsement echoes one of Kratovil's own biggest points in his pitch:

In a Congress likely to be controlled by Democrats, Mr. Kratovil would provide a welcome counterweight to the more liberal members of his party.

P.S. Don't miss Tim Fernholz's interesting account of how the Democratic leadership helped nurture these conservative young'uns:

As [North Carolina conservative Democrat Heath] Shuler puts it, "Rahm understands districts such as mine. There are things that we have to disagree [about] because of my personal beliefs and my district's beliefs, that we may differ from the party. Rahm ... never tried to change my mind. Being pro-life is a perfect example. The party is a pro-choice party, we feel strongly in my district that being pro-life is very, very important."

--Eve Fairbanks