Thursday, October 16, 2014

What I Do Not Understand

Imagine if in 1944, while the US was still facing its largest national crisis since the great depression, and after President Roosevelt's re-election with 53.4% of the vote, the Republicans had deliberately undercut the war effort for their political gain, resulting in the prolonging of the war, and thousands of needless deaths.  Who would vote for such a party?

But that is how the Republicans behaved during the country's greatest crisis since WWll: the financial collapse of 2008 and the subsequent downturn*, which put millions out of work.  One would have thought that after Obama's 2008 election with 52.9% of the vote (not that far from Roosevelt's 1944 share), and with the country still in crisis, the Republicans would have supported the president's efforts to get people back to work and the economy back on track.

Instead on the day after the inauguration, Republican lawmakers met to plan undercutting the president's efforts.
For several hours .... they plotted out ways to not just win back political power, but to also put the brakes on Obama's legislative platform.
That was just the immediate first step in a policy of sabotaging the recovery, which was detailed in Mike Grunwald's book The New New Deal.   “If he was for it,” former Ohio Senator George Voinovich explained, “we had to be against it.

Vice President Biden told me that during the transition, he was warned not to expect any bipartisan cooperation on major votes. “I spoke to seven different Republican Senators who said, ‘Joe, I’m not going to be able to help you on anything,’ ” he recalled. His informants said McConnell had demanded unified resistance. “The way it was characterized to me was, ‘For the next two years, we can’t let you succeed in anything. That’s our ticket to coming back,’ ” 
One Obama aide said he received a similar warning from a Republican Senate staffer he was seeing at the time. He remembered asking her one morning in bed, How do we get a stimulus deal? She replied, Baby, there’s no deal!
“This is how we get whole,” she said with a laugh. “We’re going to do to you what you did to us in 2006.”
At the House retreat [before Obama took office], Pete Sessions delivered this message to his colleagues:
The team’s goal would not be promoting Republican policies, or stopping Democratic policies, or even making Democratic bills less offensive to Republicans. Its goal would be taking the gavel back from Speaker Pelosi.
“That is the entire Conference’s Mission,” Sessions wrote.
In January 2009, after just a week in office, Obama announced he would visit the Capitol to meet with Republicans at noon of that day to talk with them about his economic recovery plans.  
Shortly before 11 a.m., the AP reported that Boehner had urged Republicans to oppose the stimulus. Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs handed Obama a copy of the story in the Oval Office, just before he left for the Hill to make his case for the stimulus, an unprecedented visit to the opposition after just a week in office. “You know, we still thought this was on the level,” Gibbs says. Obama political aide David Axelrod says that after the President left, White House aides were buzzing about the insult.
“It was stunning that we’d set this up and, before hearing from the President, they’d say they were going to oppose this,” Axelrod says. “Our feeling was, we were dealing with a potential disaster of epic proportions that demanded cooperation. If anything was a signal of what the next two years would be like, it was that.”
David Obey, then chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, met with his GOP counterpart, Jerry Lewis, to explain what Democrats had in mind for the stimulus and ask what Republicans wanted to include. “Jerry’s response was, ‘I’m sorry, but leadership tells us we can’t play,’ ” Obey told me. “Exact quote: ‘We can’t play.’ What they said right from the get-go was, It doesn’t matter what the hell you do, we ain’t going to help you. We’re going to stand on the sidelines and bitch.”
In his campaign, Obama had promised to hold his hand out to the Republicans so they could tackle the economic crisis together.  The GOP had other ideas.
    Grunwald again:
Republicans recognized that after Obama’s big promises about bipartisanship, they could break those promises by refusing to cooperate.
[McConnell] realized that it would be much easier to fight Obama if Republicans first made a public show of wanting to work with him.

McConnell realized that Obama's promises of bipartisanship gave his dwindling minority real leverage.  Whenever Republicans decided not to cooperate, Obama would be the one breaking the promise. ... As long as Republicans refused to follow his lead, Americans would see partisan food fights, and conclude that Obama failed to produce change.
George Voinivich:  "All he cared about was making sure Obama could never have a clean victory."
The goal was to portray [the stimulus] as trillion dollar spending bill at a time of trillion dollar deficits, rather than an economic recovery bill at a time of economic crisis. 
The dream of hope and change was about to enter the world of cloture votes and motions to recommit.
And so President Obama's hope of a bipartisan effort to get the economy rapidly back on track was undercut, and millions of Americans suffered through unemployment - unemployment that ruined lives as careers were stalled or ended, and in the case of college graduates not even begun. (Suicides increased from around 35,000 in 2007 to over 40,000 in 2012.)

This has been suffering imposed by the Republicans solely for political and electoral gain - the good of the country be damned.  (And to add insult to injury, the Republicans claim that it has been Obama who has been "divisive"!)

What I do not understand:  why would anyone even contemplate voting for such a party?

* Some may point to 9/11 as the greatest crisis since WWll.  While it was a monstrous crime that affected thousands of people, it was more akin to the 1996 Oklahoma City bombing, though on a larger scale, and should have been treated the same way as that earlier terrorist attack, instead of the hysterical reaction of the Bush administration that led to the current threats from ISIS.

Update 10/29/2014  Brad DeLong agrees:
(T)here is something wrong with anyone who publicly supports today's Republican Party without having an immediate, practical plan for utterly transforming it root-and-branch into something else.

Update 11/6/2014

And the midterm results show that the Republicans' policy of obstruction and maintaining a weak economy has worked for them, as they have gained control of the Senate and a larger majority in the House.  Let's hope they will now promote economic growth policies expecting it will bring them political advantage.

Further update:

Or perhaps not.   The American Prospect's Paul Waldman:
The incentives for them to continue fighting Obama on anything and everything are everywhere. The strategy of maximal obstruction got them where they are today. Twenty-four Republican senators will be up for re-election in 2016, and every last one will be looking over their right shoulder, worrying about a primary challenge and knowing that the only way to avoid it is to be as venomous as possible in their opposition to Obama. And next year’s House will also become even more conservative than it is now, with the addition of a group of new Tea Partiers.
A Republican party in the flush of a sweeping victory isn’t exactly going to be looking for areas where it can dial back its demands. If someone would like to explain how a GOP caucus in Congress even farther to the right than the one whose antics we currently enjoy would be more inclined to compromise with Barack Obama than it is now, I’m all ears.

Update 11/7/2014.  Krgthulu weighs in:
But the biggest secret of the Republican triumph surely lies in the discovery that obstructionism bordering on sabotage is a winning political strategy. From Day 1 of the Obama administration, Mr. McConnell and his colleagues have done everything they could to undermine effective policy, in particular blocking every effort to do the obvious thing — boost infrastructure spending — in a time of low interest rates and high unemployment.
 This was, it turned out, bad for America but good for Republicans. Most voters don’t know much about policy details, nor do they understand the legislative process. So all they saw was that the man in the White House wasn’t delivering prosperity — and they punished his party. 

Update 11/8/2014.  Eric Boehlert points out the complicity of the national press:
Led by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Republicans vowed in 2009 to oppose every political move Obama made, not matter how sweeping or how minor.  "To prevent Obama from becoming the hero who fixed Washington, McConnell decided to break it. And it worked," wrote Matthew Yglesias at Vox, in the wake of the midterm election results. New York's Jonathan Chait made a similar observation about McConnell: "His single strategic insight is that voters do not blame Congress for gridlock, they blame the president, and therefore reward the opposition."
But why? Why don't voters blame Congress for gridlock?
Why would the president, who's had virtually his entire agenda categorically obstructed, be blamed and not the politicians who purposefully plot the gridlock? Because the press has given Republicans a pass. For more than five years, too many Beltway pundits and reporters have treated the spectacular stalemate as if it were everyday politics; just more "partisan combat." It's not. It's extraordinary. (See here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.)
Update 11/26/2014:  Jon Chait weighs in:
The GOP has withheld cooperation from every major element of President Obama’s agenda, beginning with the stimulus, through health-care reform, financial regulation, the environment, long-term debt reduction, and so on. That stance has worked extremely well as a political strategy. (Boldness added.)  Most people pay little attention to politics and tend to hold the president responsible for outcomes. If Republicans turn every issue into an intractable partisan scrum, people get frustrated with the status quo and take out their frustration on the president’s party. It’s a formula, but it works.

(Of course, my title for this post is somewhat tongue-in-cheek.  It's been apparent all along that the press has failed dismally in its duty to inform the public about just what was going wrong in Washington, and that is why a deliberate campaign of sabotage was so handsomely rewarded.)

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