There are basically two important distinctions between today’s Republican Party and any conventional political party, including the GOP of the past: Today’s Republican Party is dominated by extremists who would have been ostracized by past Republicans, and today’s Republican Party is willing to do anything, no matter how much damage it does to the country, to increase its power. Republican economic policy has been to do everything they can possibly do to prolonged the recession created under George Bush so that Barack Obama would be blamed. Restoring Republicans to power because of a bad economy makes no more sense than Russians who wish to return to Stalinism, but recent polls show that this strategy is working. Former Bush speech writer David Frum is shocked by their latest attempt to block economic recovery for political gain:
I’m not shocked by much any more, but I am shocked by this: the leaders of one of the great parties in Congress calling on the Federal Reserve to tighten money in the throes of the most prolonged downturn since the Great Depression.
One line in the letter caught my eye as summing up the unreality of the Republican leaders’ position:
“We have serious concerns that further intervention by the Federal Reserve could exacerbate current problems or further harm the U.S. economy. Such steps may erode the already weakened U.S. dollar or promote more borrowing by overleveraged consumers.”
Are they serious? We are living through the most rapid deleveraging of the American consumer since the 1930s. Much of that deleveraging is occurring tragically, through the process of bankruptcy and foreclosure. Some is happening more happily, through the increase in the savings rate from the 0 of the housing boom to about 6% now.
After further discussion, Frum returned to the political implications:
I know what the detractors will say: to the end of defeating President Obama and replacing him with a Republican president. And if you’ve convinced yourself that Obama is the Second Coming of Malcolm X, Trotsky, and the all-conquering Caliph Omar all in one, then perhaps capsizing the US economy and plunging your fellow-citizens deeper into misery will seem a price worth paying to rid the country of him.
But on any realistic assessment of the problems faced by Americans – and not just would-be Republican office-holders – it’s the recession, not the presidency, that is National Problem #1 and demands the most urgent action. It won’t be enough to save Obama if he does not deserve saving – but it may be enough to save your neighbor’s house, job, and family. Or even … your own. Republicans after all have been victims of this crisis too. It’s an hour of national emergency even more urgent and overwhelming than the aftermath of 9/11. And things may soon get worse, if the Eurozone begins to crack up, as it seems it may. This is the hour for united action against the economic crisis, not partisan maneuvering.
Conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan, who also broke with the extremists in control of the GOP long ago, is thinking along similar lines:
Every time you think the ultras in the current GOP won’t go there, they do. They’ll sabotage economic growth for short term political advantage. They’ll sabotage their own president in negotiating with allies. They’re happy for the US to default if it means they can damage Obama. Their own plan for immediate, drastic austerity would be catastrophic for the global economy. Their pre-Arab Spring belligerence would shut America out of a critical opportunity to ease tensions with the growing and burgeoning Muslim world. And they have no problem treating the world economy as a partisan plaything.
If they claw their way back to power this way, our system really will be broken for a long time. And the great possibility of an adult conversation on pragmatic grounds to help the economy will be lost. And this is emphatically not Obama’s fault. He tried. They threw it back in his face again and again. Which means, I believe, that we should double down in backing him, instead of the ear-splitting whine coming from the left.
Sullivan is right both about the efforts of the GOP to sabotage economic recovery for political gain along with his assessment of the response from portions of the left. (Although it is not stated here, I’ll give Sullivan the benefit of the doubt in assuming he realizes that this “ear-splitting whine” represents the view of only a portion of the left, and many others of us also have no use for the left’s equivalent of the Tea Party movement.)
Before discussing how the GOP is trying to stall recovery, Sullivan did have one comment on Obama’s drop in the polls: “I think the explanation is simple enough: Obama gave the impression that the recovery was happening – and then it stalled.”
This raises an interesting question as to Obama’s response upon taking office. He did a tremendous job when, for all practical purposes, he began exercising control over economic policy even before taking office Bush and McCain were clueless as to what to do, preventing a probable depression. In retrospect Obama did hurt himself politically by downplaying the severity of the economy he inherited, possibly overly optimistic that the economy would recover by 2012. As we did not yet have all the numbers showing how bad the Bush recession really was, that might have been a reasonable prediction at the time. In addition, we did not predict how much damage the Republicans would still be able to do to the economy. I also wonder if there wasn’t another motivation on Obama’s part. There is a strong psychological component to business recoveries and to predict another four years of a weak economy could have easily turned into a self-fulling prediction. This looks like a case of Obama doing what was best for the country, despite taking a political risk, in contrast to the strategy of the Republicans.