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The Sabotage Party

Political Animal Steve Benen has a strong post up at The Washington Monthly -- the most persuasive case yet made that the good of the country is not even on the radar screen of Republican leadership priorities, compared to their quest to defeat President Obama. Yes, it's been said before, but not this well:

NONE DARE CALL IT SABOTAGE.... Consider a thought experiment. Imagine you actively disliked the United States, and wanted to deliberately undermine its economy. What kind of positions would you take to do the most damage?

You might start with rejecting the advice of economists and oppose any kind of stimulus investments. You'd also want to cut spending and take money out of the economy, while blocking funds to states and municipalities, forcing them to lay off more workers. You'd no doubt want to cut off stimulative unemployment benefits, and identify the single most effective jobs program of the last two years (the TANF Emergency Fund) so you could kill it.

You might then take steps to stop the Federal Reserve from trying to lower the unemployment rate. You'd also no doubt want to create massive economic uncertainty by vowing to gut the national health care system, promising to re-write the rules overseeing the financial industry, vowing re-write business regulations in general, considering a government shutdown, and even weighing the possibly of sending the United States into default....

Benen quotes Matthew Yglesias to underscore the point:

McConnell has clarified that his key goal in the Senate is to cause Barack Obama to lose in 2012 which if McConnell understands the situation correctly means doing everything in his power to reduce economic growth. Boehner has distanced himself from this theory, but many members of his caucus may agree with McConnell.

Which is just to say that specifically the White House needs to be prepared not just for rough political tactics from the opposition (what else is new?) but for a true worst case scenario of deliberate economic sabotage.

Democrats have been reluctant to impugn the patriotism of those with different political beliefs as unseemly. But given the Republican leadership's open admissions that defeat of a Democratic President is the priority that trumps all others, then they are raising the question, not Dems. Benen continues:

We're talking about a major political party, which will control much of Congress next year, possibly undermining the strength of the country -- on purpose, in public, without apology or shame -- for no other reason than to give themselves a campaign advantage in 2012.

Maybe now would be a good time to pause and ask a straightforward question: are Americans O.K. with this?

A good question. I doubt that there are any polls that frame the question in such a way as to get a definitive answer. But my guess is that few Americans would endorse McConnell's stated priorities. And it's getting worse, as Benen explains:

For months in 2009, conservatives debated amongst themselves about whether it's acceptable to actively root against President Obama as he dealt with a variety of pressing emergencies. Led by Rush Limbaugh and others, the right generally seemed to agree that there was nothing wrong with rooting against our leaders' success, even in a time of crisis.

But we're talking about a significantly different dynamic now. This general approach has shifted from hoping conditions don't improve to taking steps to ensure conditions don't improve. We've gone from Republicans rooting for failure to Republicans trying to guarantee failure.

Benen cites Jon Chait's concern about using terms like "deliberate sabotage" when describing Republican motives, which is a valid consideration. However, as Benen notes,

...Jon's benefit-of-the-doubt approach would be more persuasive if (a) the same Republicans weren't rejecting ideas they used to support; and (b) GOP leaders weren't boasting publicly about prioritizing Obama's destruction above all else, including the health of the country.

Indeed, we can even go a little further with this and note that apparent sabotage isn't limited to economic policy. Why would Republican senators, without reason or explanation, oppose a nuclear arms treaty that advances U.S. national security interests? When the treaty enjoys support from the GOP elder statesmen and the Pentagon, and is only opposed by Iran, North Korea, and Senate Republicans, it leads to questions about the party's intentions that give one pause.

All political parties want control of the political process. But it's difficult to see how democracy is served when one political party refuses bipartisanship on any significant piece of legislation as a matter of openly-stated principle. When the raw pursuit of political power is defined as the end goal of a political party, that is cause for concern about the motives of its leadership. As Benen concludes,

If a major, powerful political party is making a conscious decision about sabotage, the political world should probably take the time to consider whether this is acceptable, whether it meets the bare minimum standards for patriotism, and whether it's a healthy development in our system of government.

Benen's concern is well-echoed in this excerpt from Paul Krugman's New York Times column today:

...Our nation is in much worse shape, much closer to a political breakdown, than most people realize. ...The fact is that one of our two great political parties has made it clear that it has no interest in making America governable, unless it's doing the governing... The G.O.P. isn't interested in helping the economy as long as a Democrat is in the White House. Indeed, far from being willing to help Mr. Bernanke's efforts, Republicans are trying to bully the Fed itself into giving up completely on trying to reduce unemployment.

Or, as one of the readers of Benen's post put it in the comments, "During the Clinton presidency, Rush Limbaugh began every show with the words "America held hostage day ...Unfortunately, it looks like that's exactly what is happening now. Republicans are holding the economy and security of the U.S. hostage in order to win the White House.."