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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The GOP’s Bottomless Crack Pipe

The general expectation this week is that the Paulson Plan for avoiding a worldwide financial meltdown, with an uncertain number of modifications, is going to pass Congress overwhelmingly, and recede into the background in the presidential campaign.
I don’t know about that.
Every Democrat should read Patrick Ruffini’s post from yesterday at NextRight. He is, I strongly suspect, perfectly reflecting the game that Republicans, including Team McCain, want to play with the Paulson Plan:

Republican incumbents in close races have the easiest vote of their lives coming up this week: No on the Bush-Pelosi Wall Street bailout.
God Himself couldn’t have given rank-and-file Republicans a better opportunity to create political space between themselves and the Administration. That’s why I want to see 40 Republican No votes in the Senate, and 150+ in the House. If a bailout is to pass, let it be with Democratic votes. Let this be the political establishment (Bush Republicans in the White House + Democrats in Congress) saddling the taxpayers with hundreds of billions in debt (more than the Iraq War, conjured up in a single weekend, and enabled by Pelosi, btw), while principled Republicans say “No” and go to the country with a stinging indictment of the majority in Congress….
In an ideal world, McCain opposes this because of all the Democratic add-ons and shows up to vote Nay while Obama punts.
History has shown us that “inevitable” “emergency” legislation like the Patriot Act or Sarbanes-Oxley is never more popular than on the day it is passed — and this isn’t all that popular to begin with. All the upside comes with voting against it.

Ruffini is exactly right about the politics of this issue, especially for Republicans. Think of this as like one of those periodic votes on raising the public debt limit. It has to pass, of course, but there’s zero percentage in supporting it for any one individual. The speculative costs of the legislation actually failing are completely intangible and ultimately irrelevant, while the costs it will impose are tangible and controversial from almost every point of view. For McCain and other Republicans, voting “no” on Paulson without accepting the consequences of that vote is the political equivalent of a bottomless crack pipe: it will please the conservative “base,” distance them from both Bush and “Washington,” and let them indulge in both anti-government and anti-corporate demagoguery, even as Democrats bail out their Wall Street friends and big investors generally. You simply can’t imagine a better way for McCain to decisively reinforce his simultaneous efforts to pander to the “base” while posing as a “maverick.”
Democrats are right to demand significant substantive concessions before offering their support for the Paulson Plan. But just as importantly, they need to demand Republican votes in Congress, including the vote of John McCain. If this is going to be a “bipartisan” relief plan, it has to be fully bipartisan, not an opportunity for McCain to count on Obama and other Democrats to save the economy while exploiting their sense of responsibility to win the election for the party that let this crisis occur in the first place.

3 comments on “The GOP’s Bottomless Crack Pipe

  1. Working in Texas on

    The bailout plan is a trap for Obama and other Democrats. The Republicans are lining up to vote NO against this measure, and then they are going to blame the Democrats: Why didn’t the Democrats stand up to Bush? Why did they rush to enact the largest bail out in history? And McCain is going to vote NO and he’s going to use this as a wedge issue to pick up the angry voter! He’s going to say that Obama and the other “tax-and-spend Democrats” were only too happy to pass this legislation. McCain is going to say that he is the lone voice of reason, that he is the true Maverick who stood up against Bush, that he is the true fiscal conservative. And if Obama goes on the campaign trail rather than goes to Washington to vote, McCain is going to hammer him on his “Present” votes. THIS IS A TRAP! The Democrats in Congress have to nail down 100% Republican participation or they are toast. THIS IS THE OCTOBER SURPRISE! This issue will win the election for the Republicans. IT’S A TRAP!

  2. marcushersh on

    but if there’s full-force republican resistance, won’t the hard-core segment of democratic leadership encourage just enough d. legislators from right-leaning districts to vote with the r’s for r.’s — and mccain – to completely hang themselves when this mess lingers through election day. which it will – bail-out or not.

  3. cwnidog on

    Is it possible for Reid and Pelosi to let the Republican leadership know that they will not be bringing the final bailout bill to the floor without a guarantee of a minimum level of Republican support?


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