There’s no two ways about it, Democrats decisively won the convention wars. The daily tracking polls show it, and Nate Silver of the New York Times even foresees the possibility of a decisive seven or eight point Obama victory. Even though convention bounces usually fade with time, they have still lasting impacts on how the race unfolds. Romney needed a game-changing convention – and didn’t get it. The Democrats excited their base, finally closing the enthusiasm gap. That’s the good news for Democrats.
The bad news is that it doesn’t matter. Even if Obama wins re-election handily, conservative Republicans have made it clear, they’re not about to let him actually do anything. This is, in fact, the GOP’s ultimate argument: vote for us, or nothing gets done. N-O-T-H-I-N-G!
Think I’m exaggerating? First, here’s what Obama said to donors in Minesotta, several months ago: “I believe that if we’re successful in this election, when we’re successful in this election, that the fever may break, because there’s a tradition in the Republican Party of more common sense than that.”
He added, “My hope, my expectation, is that after the election, now that it turns out that the goal of beating Obama doesn’t make much sense because I’m not running again, that we can start getting some co-operation again.”
More recently, he repeated this fantasy in an interview with Time magazine: “[O]ne of the good things about this election is it’s going to give voters a very clear choice… [G]iven how stark the choices are, I do think that should I be fortunate enough to have another four years, the American people will have made a decision. And hopefully, that will impact how Republicans think about these problems… So my expectation is that there will be some popping of the blister after this election, because it will have been such a stark choice.“
Preferring ‘appealing theory’
And how do Republicans feel about this? Ramesh Ponnuru, a senior editor at the conservative National Review, put it starkly: “If Obama wins re-election, the Republican Party will react by moving right, not left. It will become less likely to compromise with Obama, not more.“
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The reason is simple: “Republicans, especially at the grassroots level, would react to Obama’s re-election by assuming that Romney failed because he was too moderate. That’s a very widespread view among Republicans about why Senator John McCain lost in 2008.“
It might not be the most accurate explanation, Ponnuru admits, but “it will nonetheless be an appealing theory for conservatives“.
And why wouldn’t conservatives prefer an appealing theory to cold, hard reality? They reject reality on global warming. They reject reality on whether Obama is even a citizen, born in the US. New polls in Ohio and North Carolina show that good chunk of them even believe that Romney – not Obama – somehow is responsible for killing Osama bin Laden. This is not a political party that very much cares about reality.
This is hardly a surprise, really. It would just be a replay of what’s been happening ever since Obama took office – after winning the White House with a substantial 7.2 per cent popular vote margin – over nine-and-a-half million votes. That was not a close election. The American people had clearly spoken. And yet, the immediate Republican response was to double down in opposition.
As Robert Draper’s book, Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the US House of Representatives, reported, Congressional Republicans held a four-hour meeting strategising how to defeat Obama on the very day of his inauguration, which was attended by approximately 1.8 million people – the largest event in Washington, DC history.
There could be no clearer demonstration of the popular support for Obama than what was happening in the streets of Washington that day. And yet, the Republican leaders simply shrugged it off. Dogged opposition to his every move was to be the order of the day… for four long years. That was the plan they came up with, as Draper explained:
The dinner lasted nearly four hours. They parted company almost giddily. The Republicans had agreed on a way forward:
- Go after Geithner. (And indeed Kyl did, the next day: “Would you answer my question rather than dancing around it – please?”)
- Show united and unyielding opposition to the president’s economic policies. (Eight days later, Minority Whip Cantor would hold the House Republicans to a unanimous No against Obama’s economic stimulus plan.)
- Begin attacking vulnerable Democrats on the airwaves. (The first National Republican Congressional Committee attack ads would run in less than two months.)
- Win the spear point of the House in 2010. Jab Obama relentlessly in 2011. Win the White House and the Senate in 2012.
“You will remember this day,” Newt Gingrich proclaimed to the others as they said goodbye. “You’ll remember this days as the day the seeds of 2012 were sown.”
In short, it didn’t matter what the American people had voted for. And it certainly didn’t matter what Obama did. Implacable opposition was the GOP game-plan from the very beginning.
And they meant it: Just eight days later, the House passed an early version of the stimulus bill with every single Republican voting “no”. This lock-step opposition was anything but a matter of principle, as can be seen from three different basic facts.
First, the bill was about 1/3 tax cuts, even though tax cuts generally deliver less bang-for-the-buck in terms of stimulating the economy. Second, Republican House members had strongly backed their own almost equally large stimulus bill – as well as a much smaller all-tax-cut version.
Third, after the fact, House Republicans had no problem proudly taking credit for the money spent back home in the months to come. None of these facts comport with principled opposition, all are signs of cynical political gamesmanship.
The problem is, neither Democrats nor the media seem capable of figuring out the game, even though it’s no more complicated than Lucy pulling the football away every time, just as Charlie Brown is about to kick it. Because that’s exactly what’s been going on for over 30 years now: Democrats try to compromise and be reasonable, and Republicans respond by moving the ball. Democrats fall on their butts and look stupid, but then they compound the problem by getting up and doing it all over again. (Obama’s recent remarks about the GOP magically becoming more reasonable after the election are just more of the same willful stupidity that Democrats have been practicing since 1980.)
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Last summer, the GOP took this routine beyond the point of absurdity to the very brink of economic suicide, when they threatened to force the Federal Government into default – all in the name of “fiscal responsibility”!
After that, something seemed to have changed in Obama. He shifted focus from deficit reduction to job creation, and he shifted modes from conciliation to confrontation. Republicans, naturally, responded with complete intransigence. Their message is clear: do things our way, or don’t do anything at all.
Of course, they try to blame Obama. It’s a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black. But the very fact that Obama’s still talking about working with Republicans after his re-election, rather than trying to destroy them – the way that they talk about him – is proof enough that Republicans are lying about who’s the one who’s unwilling to compromise.
But it’s not just a question of compromise. This pattern of GOP behaviour reveals a fundamental hostility to democracy itself. And that is what neither the Democratic Party nor the American media seems capable of grasping, despite all manner of evidence.
In the 1980s, the Reagan administration responded to congressional opposition to its Central America policy by running an illegal, off-the-books arms-for-hostages operation with Iran in order to fund a terrorist army to undermine the elected government of Nicaragua.
In the 1990s, Republicans in Congress and the judiciary engaged in six-year witch-hunt trying to find some grounds to impeach President Clinton since they couldn’t beat him at the ballot box. During that same time-period, the struggle for healthcare reform saw the Republicans shift from offering their own plan (what eventually became RomneyCare and ObamaCare) to no-holds-bared obstructionism.
This then lead into an anti-democratic structural strategy. On the one hand, it combined a shift to parliamentary-style top-down party discipline, first in the House, then in the Senate, along with increased reliance on procedural tricks and traps.
In the House, members were lied to – most famously about the projected costs of Medicare Part D – and votes were delayed as long it took to arm-twist members into line. In the Senate, the once-rare 60-vote filibuster cloture vote became the standard replacement for 50-vote majority rule.
On the other hand, it relied on mobilising special interest money as never before – eventually supercharged by the Citizens United decision – while doing everything possible to suppress popular opposition.
In the 1990s, this meant widespread foot-dragging in implementing the voter registration provisions of the Help Americans Vote Act, but in the 2000s, this shifted gears into active efforts to purge unwanted voters and otherwise block them from voting, culminating in a whole raft of “voter ID” bills and restrictions on voter registration and early voting.
A media paralysed by a “both sides of the story” ethos – even when one side is clearly mistaken, even lying – has proven itself incapable of telling any of these stories clearly enough for them to be understood separately, much less for them to be recognised as part of an integrated pattern. And yet, the total rejectionism of the GOP’s current presidential campaign makes that pattern increasingly difficult to ignore.
Obama may continue striving mightily to ignore it, but conservatives in the GOP have declared that democracy is dead. “Who cares what you vote for?” is their de facto slogan.
Unfortunately, Obama’s own record seems to echo this same sentiment. Every time he tries to compromise with the GOP, he stabs another loyal Democratic Party constituency in the back. As soon as the election is over, he has already said, the compromising will begin once again. What he means is, so will the back-stabbing as well.
Paul Rosenberg is the senior editor of Random Lengths News, a bi-weekly alternative community newspaper.