As President Obama finishes his second year, he and his staff would do well to catch up on what the social scientists have been saying about politics in addition to the books about his campaign. Though certainly not as engaging, their work offers great insight into the constraints of governance that he has faced. When Obama abandoned government reform upon taking office he ensured that he would have to struggle against the many structural factors that social scientists have been writing about, such as Senate rules that require sixty votes on all legislation or the revolving door between Congress and K Street.
One way to think about the 2008 election is that Team Obama developed such an awesome message that a first-term African-American Senator with the middle name “Hussein” was able to get 53 percent of the vote against a broadly popular war hero. Another way is that conditions in 2008 were so favorable to the Democrats that a first-term African-American Senator with the middle name “Hussein” was able to get 53 percent of the vote against a broadly popular war hero. One explanation is more appealing to the members of Team Obama and another explanation is better-supported by scholarly research. And the two theories have different predictions about what kinds of governance strategies are likely to prove fruitful.