The Insane Scenario Unfolding Before Our Eyes

As expected, Mitt Romney has had a field day with today’s dismal jobs report. In an interview with CNBC, the Republican nominee went to town on President Obama. Here are a few choice quotes:

“The President’s policies and his handling of the economy have been dealt a harsh indictment today.”

“The President is always quick to find someone to blame.” He cites Bush, Congress, ATM machines. “But the truth is, the No. 1 job of the president is to get people back to work.”

“He’s not up to the task. He’s over his head.”

It’s not hard to imagine the Obama campaign’s response to this—“Not only is your party responsible for the economic crisis, but when President Obama tried to contain the damage, you moved to obstruct him at every possible opportunity.”

Depending on where you stand, this is either whining or an important piece of context. I think it’s a little bit of both. There’s no question that the Obama made mistakes with his handling of the economic crisis. His initial bid for stimulus should have been larger, he should have pushed harder to staff key positions in the Treasury, he should have used recess appointments to fill vacancies at the Federal Reserve, and he should have replaced Ben Bernanke with someone who actually cared to fulfill the Fed’s dual-mandate.

But, for all of the administration’s mistakes, there’s no question that we would be in a better situation if Obama had an actual governing partner in the Republican Party. The initial stimulus may have been smaller with a GOP that adhered to Keynesian ideas—as it did at the beginning and end of George W. Bush’s term—but we almost certainly would have seen more of it as time progressed and the economy struggled. Nominees would have been confirmed, agencies would have been filled, and the federal government wouldn’t be at a standstill on the economy.

To be clear, this isn’t about the conservatism of the GOP. As Mitt Romney has shown with his promise to cut taxes and delay spending cuts for later years, you can have a Keynesianism that incorporates conservative values. What’s more, there’s nothing about staffing a government that violates conservative principles. Rather, this is about the radicalism of the modern day Republican Party, and it’s totalistic approach to politics and governing. When Republicans win, they do their best to rig the game in their favor (see: GOP governors and the sudden concern with voter fraud). When they lose, they do their best to sabotage government, and keep Democrats from implementing policy.

If I sound frustrated—and I am—it’s because we’re in the middle of an absolutely ludicrous scenario. Under a Republican president, the United States endured eight years of disastrous economic stewardship—arguably the worst of the post-war era—that nearly led to a second Great Depression. In response, voters elected a Democratic president and gave him huge majorities in both chambers of Congress. Rather than work with the new president, Republicans ran to the right and promised to defeat this president by any means necessary. They abused institutional rules to block nominees, and imposed a de-facto super-majority requirement on all legislation. Republicans rejected stimulus, the automobile rescue, a climate bill built from their ideas, a health care bill built from their ideas, and a reform bill designed to keep the Great Recession from happening again.

This was an amazingly successful strategy. It destroyed Democratic standing with the public, energized the right-wing fringe, and led to a historic victory in the House of Representatives. Once in command of the House, Republicans pushed hugely draconian budgets, risked a government shutdown, and nearly caused a second economic collapse by threatening to default on the nation’s debt. This reckless behavior depressed the economy, prolonged the recovery, and destroyed trust in the nation’s political institutions. The Speaker of the House has even promised to do this again, if Democrats don’t bow to his demands for greater spending cuts.

Now, those same Republicans—and their enablers—are running to replace President Obama by blaming him for the entirety of our economic situation. The GOP nominee, Mitt Romney, denies the depth of the recession, unfairly tars Obama for job losses incurred at the beginning of his term, and falsely blames the stimulus for sluggish growth. His alternative to the problems of slow growth, high inequality, and stagnant wages? Juiced-up versions of policies that led us here in the first place: larger tax cuts for the rich, more deregulation for Wall Street, greater restrictions on labor, deeper cuts to social services, and less help for our most vulnerable citizens.

Because reelection campaigns are often a referendum on the incumbent, it doesn’t actually matter that Republicans lack a plan for generating broad-based growth. All that matters is that they aren’t Democrats.

The GOP plan has been to capitalize on this, and obstruct government to the point where voters will mindlessly bring them back to power. That’s what they announced at the beginning of Obama’s term, and it’s working—the presidential election is very close, and Republicans have a chance at winning unified control of government. To many of our pundits and reporters, this is business as usual. In reality, it’s absolutely insane.