Political Animal


June 28, 2011 10:05 AM Evil vs. Disgusting

By Steve Benen

Regular readers know that we’ve been keeping an eye on the “sabotage” question, wondering whether congressional Republicans would consider hurting the economy on purpose, for purely partisan reasons.

Just this month, some high-profile, mainstream pundits have begun exploring the issue, and just last week, two of Congress’ most powerful Democrats broached the same subject.

Michael Tomasky went even further the other day, arguing that Democrats should start “saying openly what has been clear for months or even years now — that as long as economic recovery would work to the political benefit of Barack Obama, the Republicans have been, are, and will be in favor of sabotaging the economy.” Tomasky added this is “obvious,” though many consider the question to “impolite” to repeat.

But it appears the question is being asked more and more often anyway. I hope readers will take the time to watch Rachel Maddow’s segment on this from last night.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Rachel noted, among other things, that the congressional GOP has decided it’s against their own ideas about helping the economy, which necessarily raises some awkward questions about their motivations.

For those who can’t watch clips from your work computers, here’s a portion of the transcript:

“What is John Boehner’s contribution to overcoming the uncertainty that’s out there? Dragging the nation to the point of defaulting on all of our debts, saying it’s going to come down to the wire, and nobody knows how it’s going to turn out, and maybe we’ll just be crazy enough to let the whole global economy blow up again to make a point? So says the guy concerned about the risk of any uncertainty in the business climate? […]

“The kind way to understand this is as disgusting hypocrisy. The kind way to understand this is shameless, craven, unprincipled, partisan hackery. That’s the nice way to see this.

“The less nice way to see this is that Republicans in Congress actually do care about policy. And they not only care about policy, they believe what they say about policy…. The worst possible thing you could think about what congressional Republicans are doing right now in this game of chicken they are playing on the debt ceiling, the worst possible thing you can think about them, with what they are doing, with the threats they are making to cause another global catastrophe if not another deep recession, the worst you could say about this is that they believe what they say when they talk about policy.

“Because if they believe what they say about policy, if they’re not just making it up fresh every day, then they know what they are doing would guarantee bad economic outcomes — huge risks to the entire American economy and maybe even the global one. Why would anybody want that? Maybe they think that is better for their chances of beating President Obama in the next election.

“Given the choice between thinking of them as that evil and thinking of them as just disgusting, I would rather think of them as just disgusting.”

It’s awful when these appear to be the only two plausible options, isn’t it?

Keep in mind, for much of the country, the problem with policymakers and the economy is that Washington lacks “leadership” and the “political will” to make things better. These assumptions are wrong — the problem is a major party that controls the House and can block at will in the Senate appears unwilling to consider any measures that could improve the economy, and demands measures that would make matters worse.

Which is why I support at least asking the question and having the debate.

Republicans said a payroll tax cut would help create jobs, and now they’re opposed to their own idea. Republicans said the Economic Development Administration is great for the economy, and now they’re opposed to that, too. Republicans have traditionally supported infrastructure investment, but the “infrastructure bank” idea appears likely to be killed by the GOP. Many Republicans endorsed the TANF Emergency Fund last year as an incredibly effective method of lowering unemployment, and the congressional GOP killed that, too.

Republicans are blocking qualified Treasury Department nominees who could also be working on economic policy. Republicans are blocking qualified Federal Reserve nominees who could also help improve the economy, while demanding that the Fed do nothing to promote economic activity. The GOP is demanding that Congress and the White House agree to immediately take money out of the economy and eliminate public-sector jobs, even when conservative economists say that’s crazy. What’s more, these same Republican officials have made it abundantly clear that failure to give them the cuts they want would force them to crash the economy on purpose.

And it’s against this backdrop that one of the most powerful Republican officials on Capitol Hill has argued, more than once, that his “top priority” isn’t job creation, but rather, “denying President Obama a second term in office.”

This is a conversation worth having.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


Post a comment
  • N. Wells on June 28, 2011 10:20 AM:

    It's not "evil or disgusting", but both. They are aiming for a two-fer - keep the economy bad and use that for campaigning against Obama, and simultaneously create and exploit crises to ram home their reactionary agenda as much as possible, no matter what the cost.

  • c u n d gulag on June 28, 2011 10:21 AM:

    It's not a 'conversation' that we need.

    We need people SCREAMING about this at the top of their lungs - like Republicans when you say or do anything that's not part of their agenda.

    And, if there's still a country left in 2013, and the Republicans get their wish and control DC, I would bet everything I have left (my $0.02 by then) that they will move Heaven and Earth to put a stimulus package together, pass EDA and TANF funding, all so that they can claim to have come in like "white" knights and saved the country, the economy, and jobs, from that evil Kenyan Usurper and the nefarious Liberal agenda.

    You can bet on it.
    They'll want a stronger economy, with more jobs, so they can take the credit.
    Now, the jobs they create needn't be good at that point.
    People will be so desperate, a job with no minimum wage will look like manna from Heaven at that point compared with no job at all.

    And, of course, they'll still continue their anti woman, education, unions, seniors, the disabled, the poor, and the needy, agenda's.
    That goes without saying.

  • Danp on June 28, 2011 10:22 AM:

    Which is why I support at least asking the question and having the debate.

    Dems had better start preparing to answer this question every single time they go on TV.

    "Do you agree with ____ that Republicans are evil and unAmerican?"

    No nuanced answer or full explanation will be allowed. "It's a simple yes or no question, Senator."

  • Tony Greco on June 28, 2011 10:26 AM:

    "...the problem is a major party that controls the House and can block at will in the Senate appears to [be] unwilling to consider any measures that could improve the economy, and demand measures that would make matters worse."

    Yes, that is our major problem, but the other problem is that the President isn't even asking for serious measures to improve the economy. He's doing nothing to challenge the Republican narrative that we need immediate, drastic spending cuts. He should be using his great communications skills to explain, forcefully and repeatedly, that we need more spending right now, not less. Instead, he bragged about how he worked with Republicans to implement unprecedented cuts. It's hard for Democrats to say Republicans want to keep the economy bad when the leader of their party is doing nothing to articulate a serious alternative to the Republican program.

  • T2 on June 28, 2011 10:27 AM:

    It's not just the economic recovery they are blocking....they actively block almost every appointment Obama has made, and anything else he proposes. It's almost as if it is purely based in racism.

  • Brian R. on June 28, 2011 10:32 AM:

    It's not a 'conversation' that we need.

    We need people SCREAMING about this at the top of their lungs - like Republicans when you say or do anything that's not part of their agenda.

    This. A million times, this.

  • burro on June 28, 2011 10:43 AM:

    There is no doubt, and it's been obvious for quite some time, as Rachel's overview indicates, that the r's have chosen to make their stand on destroying the New Deal/Great Society. The time has come and the dark man in the White House both emphasizes the need, (from their perspective), to do that, and that same fact makes their job easier by using racist motivations to energize their base.

    As Chris Hayes describes, they have the monster in their sights and if they miss this opportunity it will drive them mad(der).

    But if Barack Obama is so naive that he can look at this and still think that there is hope for his desire to "will" the f'd up institutions of this country back into sanity, than he shouldn't be representing the theoretically more progressive perspective in this country. He's not up to the task. I don't know if he ever was. And maybe he wants to give it his best shot, before turning into the Hulk and causing some damage. But I think its far to little and way too late.

    The r's weren't certain who they were dealing with in the beginning, but they have a better idea now, and they are no longer uncertain, or afraid. Their behaviour is that of people who aren't intimidated. And to think that Obama is going to come up with something now that is going to rock them back on their heels with new found respect is pretty far fetched. Especially when his most common parry is to accommodate and chase comity.

    Rachel is 100% correct. But Rachel was never the one who was most important to convince.

  • T2 on June 28, 2011 10:46 AM:

    I think Tony Greco has the main point....until the Administration starts harping on this, the GOP will continue. Perhaps the upcoming campaign will shake the president out of his perpetual desire to "cooperate" by agreeing to bad things so the GOP won't get the really bad things. At a point, Obama is going to have to win another term.....and campaigning on "lets just work together" may not do it anymore.

  • beep52 on June 28, 2011 10:52 AM:

    He's doing nothing to challenge the Republican narrative... Tony Greco

    That, more than any policy differences I may have with Obama, is my greatest disappointment in the man. If all he accomplished in his entire term was to thwart the constant march of conservative memes and help the country get back to a more balanced, rational dialogue, he would have been a successful President. During the campaign, when he cited Reagan as transformative figure, this is what I thought he meant.

    Obviously, not.

  • Brenna on June 28, 2011 10:53 AM:

    I almost wonder if Obama is just trying to get through his first term. If reelected, he can become an instant asshole. As Peggy N. said, he's a cold fish, and I'd like to see him get a lot colder with these bastard republicans. Like freezing them out completely.

  • SYSPROG on June 28, 2011 11:01 AM:

    You know it occurs to ME that this IS a conversation worth having. It's really not enough for the President to keep pressing the GOP. It's not the congresscritters that we need to convince. It is the American PEOPLE. Those people that when they rise up scare the holy s@#t out of these sanctimonious peckerheads in Congress. When they say 'the American people think...' we should show them what we REALLY think...

  • June on June 28, 2011 11:02 AM:

    @Tony Greco, I find your comment to be completely inaccurate -- "Yes, that is our major problem, but the other problem is that the President isn't even asking for serious measures to improve the economy. He's doing nothing to challenge the Republican narrative that we need immediate, drastic spending cuts. He should be using his great communications skills to explain, forcefully and repeatedly, that we need more spending right now, not less."

    For one thing, the President very recently used his bully pulpit to "forcefully challenge the Republican narrative that we need immediate, drastic spending cuts...." Re-visit this major speech, which left Paul Ryan, et al. with hurt feelings for weeks:


    Then please go back as far as you like, and pick any Weekly Address the White House puts out (especially any that feature topics on healthcare, manufacturing, jobs or education) and you'll find that every single week, Obama uses his bully pulpit to advocate for an increase of, and protection of, investment spending, and that in many instances, he calls out the draconian policies Republicans want to put in place. You can find the Weekly Addresses here:


    As a matter of fact, the topic of the most recent weekly address is: Strenthening America By Investing at Home,; and right before that there is:

    Partnering with the Private Sector to Spur Hiring (a major initiative that does not require Congressional votes)

    But more importantly, the President has already "asked" for serious measures to improve the economy, it's called the FY2012 Budget -- the very thing the GOP is trying to destroy now, because they know it **will** improve the economy. Find the budget here:


    I find it continually amazing that a narrative on our side persists that "the President is doing nothing about (fill in the blank)," when the information is out there - but it takes two to tango - the Prez is putting it out there, why don't we tune in more. Not everything is accomplished by way of a prime-time news conference.

  • edb on June 28, 2011 11:09 AM:

    The only hope we have in the short term for preserving the New Deal and not plunging into a new Gilded Age that would put the last one to shame is Obama's number one priority: getting re-elected. That is the only thing he cares about. However, when a Republican is elected president in 2016, the New Deal and economic fairness in America is finished. This will be Obama's real legacy: he did not fight for regular Americans against the greed of the super-wealthy, so setting the stage for the destruction of America's economy. Republicans say the super-wealthy are "the producers" - that's wrong, but even if it were true, if consumers have no money, the economy is doomed.

  • kevo on June 28, 2011 11:22 AM:

    To put the Republican efforts in context, read Naomi Klein's Crisis Capitalism. She lays out an argument that McConnell and his cohorts walk right into!

    McConnell is merely hoping for nothing more than a wash, as he merely wishes the economy to continue tanking. His contsituents won't suffer - they're the ones who rely on crises to make profits and escape paying what other good citizens pay in the way of taxes! -Kevo

  • kevo on June 28, 2011 11:25 AM:

    Fuller disclosure - The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein. -Kevo

  • Roger the Cabin Boy on June 28, 2011 11:30 AM:

    Rachel is the only televised media figure doing real journalism these days. I'm glad to see her addressing this, and I hope she continues to pursue it between now and August. Maybe some others will start paying attention.

    I'm waiting for the republicans to start screaming bloody blue murder at the idea that they'd deliberately sabotage the economy for pure political gain. That would of course be an admission of guilt.

  • Anonymous on June 28, 2011 11:36 AM:

    I am amazed at some of the comments here. How anyone can watch this clip with ample proof of republican hypocrisy in voting against their own policies along with the many examples of republican obstruction to prevent the economy from rebounding, and then blame President Obama is beyond me.

    Granted, there are valid criticisms of Obama. But to place the blame on him for the cynical political motives of republicans is not only wrong, but wrongheaded. The very same individual­­s who once said that they hoped that President Obama would fail and proudly declared that their primary goal is to make Obama a one-term president, are now in control of the majority of Congress.

    Sure, it would be great if Obama publicly took republicans to the woodshed. But in the end, he still must work with this congress to get anything accomplished. What exactly do you propose he do?

  • Tollopy Goodness on June 28, 2011 11:49 AM:

    That's not the entire problem (your last paragraph). I don't think Hillary Clinton would be taking it up the butt by the likes of McCornhole or Boner. I guess I should have voted for the continuation of the Clinton Dynasty.. Oh well, live and learn. Obama just lacks a strong arm, you can see it in almost everything he has talked about. I'm not saying he has not handled the economy well, but really, that's about it...

    I've lost all faith in our leader, now it just seems like a bunch of lunatic psychopaths are running the show, on both sides.

  • June on June 28, 2011 12:07 PM:

    I hope I live long enough let's say, another 30 or 40 years, to see the well-deserved opprobrium history will hopefully heap upon this collection of traitors, racists, incompetents, criminals, nimcompoops, lunatics and rumdums - otherwise known as the Grand Old Party of the late twentieth century/early twenty-first century.

  • hell's littlest angel on June 28, 2011 12:07 PM:

    If only Obama could deal with congressional Republicans the way Michele Bachmann's favorite Iowan would have -- by strangling them and stuffing the corpses under the crawlspace of the White House -- but that danged civility gets itself in the way.

    Honestly, I think he's doing a pretty good job of handling those bastards. I'd quibble with tactics, but not his overall approach.

  • Schtick on June 28, 2011 12:08 PM:

    You can't have a conversation with people that live by Fake Nooz and Fatass Limpbrains. They spew the gospel the ignorant masses live by and MSM repeats.
    Obama and the dems can say whatever they want, if the media ignores them, they aren't saying anything. Even if the dems manage to get invited to the repub media fest, they usually aren't allowed to make a point or refute repub lies when they are given ten seconds to make a point or refute a lie and repubs have ten minutes.

    crapcha....entoodu yuan....oh yeah?

  • Ron Byers on June 28, 2011 12:39 PM:

    Once again, the Republicans are doing what they are doing and it's Obama's fault we aren't them calling out.

    When are you "progressives" going to rise up and scream out loud instead of hidding behind Obama's coattails? It is our lives the Republicans are playing with for political gain. Isn't it up to us to defend ourselves?

    Boys and girls it is up to us to spread the word. Nobody is going to do it for us.

  • Lielow on June 28, 2011 12:49 PM:

    "I've lost all faith in our leader, now it just seems like a bunch of lunatic psychopaths are running the show, on both sides."
    So you will just sit by at home and pout in the corner? Will you stay at home and not vote, not do anything? I hope not, resist being just like the rest of the idiot Americans who like to gripe about not getting what they Want when what they should focus on is what they need. More republicans are most certainly not what we need. Wake up and do something..start LOCALY that's where you can effect change. THERE IS SOMETHING HERE TO LEARN from the republicans....that's how THEY got their recking crew in office.

  • bdop4 on June 28, 2011 2:13 PM:

    The real question to be asking politicians from both parties is:

    "How does reducing the debt create jobs?"

    There is no rational connection. Somehow the message has to be moved from "reducing the deficit" to "redirecting resources to fix the economy."

  • Jbw on June 28, 2011 5:24 PM:

    If you think your ideology will save the country, what's a little double dip recession. The ends justifies the means.

  • Paul Siegel on June 28, 2011 6:23 PM:

    We don't need a debate. What Republicans are doing is obvious. Mitch McConnell, the greatest political cynic of all time, is behind it. He wants to make Obama "a one term president." He said so.

    We need to tell the world what is happening. More important, we need to attack Mitch McConnell. If we can do it in such a way that fellow Republicans will dislike him, all the better. Mitch McConnell is Enemy #1, not just for Democrats but for the whole country.

  • Doug on June 28, 2011 9:52 PM:

    Apparently, what some posters want isn't for President Obama to use his "bully pulpit" since he already does that. It appears they just don't like the WAY the President uses it. As far as I can tell, what they want is for Mr. Obama to be the Democrats' "attack dog"; calling out Republicans, imputing their intelligence and patriotism, and even insulting and ridiculing anyone who supports them. In other words, act just like a Republican/Teabagger!
    Pitiful, just pitiful...

  • Schtick on June 28, 2011 10:29 PM:

    Doug on June 28, 2011 9:52 PM:

    Obama may use his bully pulpit, but he doesn't use it often enough. He's having a press conference tomorrow morning. When was the last time he had a press conference? March? People just want Obama to USE the pulpit. He's very good at getting his point across and giving it to the repubs like they deserve, he just doesn't do it often enough.

    crapcha....Wearev deterring....sure

  • RobM on June 29, 2011 7:58 AM:

    Steve stop beating around the bush and just say it. Here is your cue,

    " "You will not apply my precept," he said, shaking his head. "How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?"
    Sherlock Holmes