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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Paul Krugman on the GOP’s political strategy: “blackmail” and “protection racket politics

In his New York Times column today titled “the Blackmail Caucus“, Paul Krugman puts his finger on the real issue in this election:

….Lately, however, I’ve seen a growing number of Romney supporters making a quite different argument. Vote for Mr. Romney, they say, because if he loses, Republicans will destroy the economy.
O.K., they don’t quite put it that way. The argument is phrased in terms of “partisan gridlock,” as if both parties were equally extreme. But they aren’t. This is, in reality, all about appeasing the hard men of the Republican Party.
…During the first two years of Mr. Obama’s presidency, when Democrats controlled both houses of Congress, Republicans offered scorched-earth opposition to anything and everything he proposed. Among other things, they engaged in an unprecedented number of filibusters, turning the Senate — for the first time — into a chamber in which nothing can pass without 60 votes.
And, when Republicans took control of the House, they became even more extreme. The 2011 debt ceiling standoff was a first in American history: An opposition party declared itself willing to undermine the full faith and credit of the U.S. government, with incalculable economic effects, unless it got its way.
And the looming fight over the “fiscal cliff” is more of the same. Once again, the G.O.P. is threatening to inflict large damage on the economy unless Mr. Obama gives it something — an extension of tax cuts for the wealthy — that it lacks the votes to pass through normal constitutional processes.
Would a Democratic Senate offer equally extreme opposition to a President Romney? No, it wouldn’t. So, yes, there is a case that “partisan gridlock” would be less damaging if Mr. Romney won.
But are we ready to become a country in which “Nice country you got here. Shame if something were to happen to it” becomes a winning political argument? I hope not. By all means, vote for Mr. Romney if you think he offers the better policies. But arguing for Mr. Romney on the grounds that he could get things done veers dangerously close to accepting protection-racket politics, which have no place in American life.

In making this argument, Krugman deflates the pro-Romney argument based on the urgent need for a “Grand Bargain” on the budget.

But would Mr. Obama be able to negotiate a Grand Bargain on the budget? Probably not — but so what? America isn’t facing any kind of short-run fiscal crisis, except in the fevered imagination of a few Beltway insiders. If you’re worried about the long-run imbalance between spending and revenue, well, that’s an issue that will have to be resolved eventually, but not right away.

He then makes an absolutely central point:

Furthermore, I’d argue that any alleged Grand Bargain would be worthless as long as the G.O.P. remained as extreme as it is, because the next Republican president, following the lead of George W. Bush, would just squander the gains on tax cuts and unfunded wars.

This final point is one that has been totally missing in the current debate. Every single solitary call for a “Grand Bargain” implicitly assumes that the Republicans will keep their end of any bargain they negotiate if they are returned to power or at some point obtain some temporary political leverage. Yet the explicit, fundamental and official philosophy of the movement conservatives who now dominate the GOP is that any compromises they may make of their ultimate goals are simply tactical and have absolutely no binding moral or political force.
The consequence is simple. So long as the GOP remains committed to its current extremist philosophy, they can be absolutely and completely trusted — trusted to never, ever, ever genuinely respect the terms of any “Grand Bargain” that they might negotiate. At the very best any so-called “Grand Bargain” will be a temporary two or four year deal, renewable at the GOP’s exclusive option.
As a result, the only viable road – the only road — to a “Grand Bargain” on the budget must begin with the defeat of the political extremism that now dominates the GOP. And the first step toward achieving that goal is the defeat of Mitt Romney in next Tuesday’s election.

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