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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Sabotage, Who Us?

Two excellent posts provide a devastating take-down of WaPo columnist and former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson’s dismissal of the notion that Republicans would sabotage needed economic reforms to gain political advantage. Political Animal Steve Benen, who launched the controversy with his post on GOP sabotage, responds to Gerson’s critique with a couple of compelling observations, which may make Gerson sorry he brought it up:

He suggests at the outset that my argument is somehow an attempt to avoid dealing with the “inadequacies” and “failure” of “liberalism.” It’s an odd line of reasoning — Gerson’s former boss bequeathed an economic catastrophe, a jobs crisis, a massive deficit, and a housing crisis, among other calamities. Democratic policymakers, scrambling to address the catastrophic failures of Bush-brand conservatism, have managed to create an economy that’s growing, creating jobs, and generating private-sector profits, while stabilizing a financial system that teetered on collapse. (What’s more, if Gerson believes the size and scope of the Obama administration’s economic agenda are consistent with what “liberalism” has in mind, he knows far less about the ideology than he should.)
…It’s also worth emphasizing that my point about “uncertainty” was meant as a form of mockery. The right is obsessed with the debunked notion that “economic uncertainty” is responsible for the lack of robust growth, so in raising my observation, I noted that it’s the Republican agenda that seems focused on adding to this uncertainty — vowing to gut the national health care system, promising to re-write the rules overseeing the financial industry, vowing to re-write business regulations in general, considering a government shutdown, and even weighing the possibility of sending the United States into default.
What’s more, I’m fascinated by the notion that I’m describing a “conspiracy” — a word Gerson uses four times in his column. I made no such argument. There’s no need for secret meetings in smoke-filled rooms; there’s no reason to imagine a powerful cabal pulling strings behind the scenes. The proposition need not be fanciful at all — a stronger economy would improve President Obama’s re-election chances, so Republicans are resisting policies and ideas that would lead to this result.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wasn’t especially cagey about his intentions: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president…. Our single biggest political goal is to give [the Republican] nominee for president the maximum opportunity to be successful.”
Given this, is it really that extraordinary to wonder if this might include rejecting proposals that would make President Obama look more successful on economic policy — especially given the fact that McConnell’s approach to the economy appears to be carefully crafted to do the opposite of what’s needed? After Gerson’s West Wing colleagues effectively accused Democrats of treason in 2005, is it beyond the pale to have a conversation about Republicans’ inexplicable motivations?

In his Plum Line column, Greg Sargent acknowledges that the “charge that Republicans are planning to actively sabotage the economy” may be overstated/unproductive, but notes, in addition to the McConnell quote cited by Benen, Sen Jim Demint’s call to arms: “If we’re able to stop Obama on this it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.” Sargent continues:

…There’s no denying that some Republicans did, in fact, make the clear calculation that denying Obama successes at all costs, regardless of the substance of specific initiatives or any willingness on his part to make concessions, was the best way to accomplish this overarching political goal. They said so themselves! It would be interesting to hear Gerson directly engage these McConnell and DeMint quotes and explain why they don’t directly support this general interpretation of what happened in the last two years.

We’ll file that one under “not gonna happen.”

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