Political Animal


July 24, 2011 9:30 AM Never underestimate the power of spite

By Steve Benen

It’s pretty remarkable what President Obama offered to give up to House Speaker John Boehner in order to get a “Grand Bargain,” only to have the Republican leader walk away. Why would Boehner reject a proposal tilted so heavily in the GOP’s favor? In part because it came from President Obama.

To be sure, if it were up to the Speaker, and he had some semblance of control over the bulk of his caucus, Boehner probably would have taken the extremely favorable deal. But he knew he’d have to take it back to his caucus, and he also knew he couldn’t get the votes.

The larger point, though, is that House Republicans aren’t just unwilling to listen to reason, they’re also unwilling to agree with the president.

Consider this George Will column from the other day:

The Tea Party can succeed in 16 months by helping elect a president who will not veto necessary reforms. To achieve that, however, Tea Partyers must not help the incumbent achieve his objectives in the debt-ceiling dispute.

One of those is to strike a splashy bargain involving big — but hypothetical and nonbinding — numbers. This would enable President Obama to run away from his record and run as a debt-reducing centrist.

Got that? The important thing isn’t to strike a compromise and prevent a disaster; the important thing is prevent Obama from claiming a political victory.

This is a striking mentality that makes progress next to impossible. But it’s a strain of thought that dominates Republican thinking right now — if Obama is going to look good by striking a bipartisan deal, the GOP priority must scuttle the deal, regardless of merit, to prevent Obama from looking good. As Ezra Klein noted yesterday, “[L]etting the president look like a dealmaker would potentially dim the GOP’s chances of retaking the White House in 2012…. And so Boehner walked.”

Remember, just a few days ago, the Gang of Six unveiled its debt-reduction blueprint. President Obama had some complimentary things to say about the plan, which led many Republicans to immediately and reflexively reject it. After all, they assumed, if Obama is offering praise for the plan, they don’t want anything to do with it.

Have we really reached the point at which GOP officials are so filled with spite that they’d turn down a sweet deal from the White House, based entirely on their hatred of the president? Under the circumstances, that hardly seems like a stretch.

In a twisted sort of way, it’s relatively good news, then, that Republicans don’t even want to talk to the White House anymore. The negotiations at this point are between congressional Dems and the congressional GOP. There are some hopes that an agreement — if there’s an agreement — might stand a better chance if Obama’s fingerprints aren’t on it.

Welcome to the politics of petty, childish spite.

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
  • karen marie on July 24, 2011 9:47 AM:

    How can people call themselves "conservative" when they are not just willing but apparently eager to destroy the country's economy?

    The mind boggles.

    If all they wanted was to not allow the president to look good, they could have simply passed the debt ceiling increase accompanied by a lot of melodramatic speeches about the enormous sacrifice they were making for the good of their country.

    The George Will would encourage this kind of dangerous stupidity is shocking, even for him.

  • lou on July 24, 2011 9:47 AM:

    Monkey Wrenching worked for Bush and against Gore in Florida. The gang is just carrying on their undemocratic tradition of carrying out the "will of the people".

  • Danp on July 24, 2011 9:50 AM:

    I'm all for freedom of speech, but why does WaPo give a platform for such partisan opinion that borders on treason?

    THe ads write themselves. Unfortunately, Dems prefer feel-good generalizations that are neither informative nor comforting.

  • bleh on July 24, 2011 9:53 AM:

    Spite, perhaps. But let's not ignore the dead elephant in the living room.

    A lot of Republican opposition to Obama is pure racism.

    And in this they're faithfully representing their constituency. There is a big swathe of the American public -- white and mostly lower-income, concentrated in the South and Southwest -- that simply can't stand the thought that a black man is president. It blinds them to everything else. It fuels rage and paranoia, and it completely trumps facts and logic.

    They don't like anything he likes because he's black. And no amount of compromise or reasoning, no appeals to public interest or even their individual self-interest, will change that. They hate him and everything he says and does.

    I assume he realizes this. But it does change what is even possible politically, and I don't yet see that realization driving the actions of the Democrats.

  • Mad_nVt on July 24, 2011 9:53 AM:

    If the GOP believes that a Democratic occupant of the White House is illegitimate, then how can they possibly negotiate in good faith.

  • Davis on July 24, 2011 9:54 AM:

    As for George Will, he's lost my respect for good. And the sad thing is that what he wrote is supposedly from the 'enlightened' part of the GOP.

    The GOP's irrational hatred for this president at the expense of solving serious problems in this country will come back to bite them. The frothing has to come out, but after that, they will stand embarrassed.

  • FRP on July 24, 2011 9:54 AM:

    When the arrows in the quiver thin like skin on old mens domes . There is but a final missile , swift and narrow strong and agile .
    Sweet Fourteen I love the number so .
    Tell me why your supple power I neglect . Of reason constant , never fickle .
    One last blow , away we go
    Quoth the George Boehner Will
    "Never more"

  • Observer on July 24, 2011 9:56 AM:

    Ah Steve, I shouldn't need to link to the Whitehouse.gov website to go to the transcript but your president just offered cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social security.

    He specifically offered cuts to future SocSec beneficiaries and no cuts to current ones.

    Also, your precious ACA along with the bullshit theories you offered about incremental improvements to get to single payer because after FDR created SocSec there was increment improvements so this must be the same thing...well your president just offered to raise the raise for eligibility into the only decent public single payer plan in the country.

    Steve, pro Obama Democrats in general and, you in particular ("Pass. The. Damn. Bill. Now."), have absolutely no credibility or moral authority to say sh*t about Boehner and the Republicans on this issue and try to heap the blame on them. Everything you have claimed in the past two years about Obama has been proven false.

    So for once, please shut up about the Republicans and go tend to the ostensibly pro liberal Democrats you socialize with and tell them to go fix the problems you folks created with your bullshit excuses, equivocations and naiviete.

  • Kathie on July 24, 2011 9:57 AM:

    This is why I will never vote Republican for the rest of my life. Call me biased, but if an entire party has become so ignorant and spiteful and puts their own political gains over all else, they deserve every fail that's going to come back and kick them in their pasty white asses.

  • delNorte on July 24, 2011 9:57 AM:

    OK, so wasn't the President, knowing full well that Republicans do the opposite of what he wants, daring them to offer up a short term extension? Was he laying some kind of trap? If you look back at what happened at the infamous "Obama storms out of meeting" meeting, the arch-fiend himself, Eric Cantor, seems to have taken the bait:

    Obama said he would not be "afraid to veto" a short-term approach or "defend it to the American people" and warned that a debt default would amount to "a tax increase on every American," said the aide.

    Cantor rudely interrupted the president three times to advocate for short-term debt ceiling increases while the president was wrapping the meeting," a Democratic aide told Politico.

    So, if Republicans offer a short term extension, and the President doesn't veto it, that makes Obama look like a President without backbone. If he does veto it, though, he'll have to invoke the 14th amendment, or he'll get the blame for the resulting calamities. And if he goes 14th amendment, the impeachment machine gets rolled out to the launch pad.

  • KurtRex1453 on July 24, 2011 10:03 AM:

    If the economy breaks, the Republicans will bear the responsibility. My dark feeling is that this might be the intent of some party members and their backers all along. You have to think of the introduction of the Meiji Era in Japan and the chaos surrounding the end of the Shogunate. Who tried (and failed) to profited the most from the chaos? Those who wanted to carve their own kingdoms out of Japan. So it is with certain Tea Party people they Hope For and foster collapse, thinking they would profit politically a collapse by shouting that neither party can govern. So, they turn what should have been normal votes into dramatic conflicts hoping to embarrass the President. So here's the question, who profits most from the current drams? Not regular Republicans.

  • Daniel Kim on July 24, 2011 10:06 AM:

    "How can people call themselves "conservative" when they are not just willing but apparently eager to destroy the country's economy?"

    I'd ask "How can people call themselves *American*?"

    I knew that George Will was a chicken-faced stupid ideologue, but I didn't think he's be a traitor as well.

  • kevo on July 24, 2011 10:07 AM:

    This is not the "politics of petty, childish spite" Mr. Benen!

    We are witnessing the politics of the jugular whereby the Republican Brand has been working now for the past 2 1/2 years actively, and most often openly, to cut the main vein bringing policy solutions back to our nation's heart from the brain that is trying in earnest to solve many of our pressing economic, social and political problems we are facing in this complex world!

    The Republican party resides on murderers' row! Its candidates need to be punished at the polls in 2012! -Kevo

  • ChicagoRob on July 24, 2011 10:07 AM:

    I have to echo Bleh's comment. I think a lot of this is because the Nixon-Atwater-Thurmond-Dixiecrat DNA of the Republican Party just can't stand having a Black Man in the White House. It's one more battle in the Civil War, which has never ended for them. They just can't stand it that a field n****** worked his way up to a house n****** and now has the gall ... THE GALL ... to call himself Master of the plantation.

  • FRP on July 24, 2011 10:08 AM:

    OK , so the captain knowing full well the sailors do the opposite of what he wants , daring them to bail out the boat .
    The Boat was sinking but the Sailors stood firm , the grim Captain said "Mother may I leave" , NOT !
    The cocky mutineer puzzled by the bait of the boat on the rocks , NOT !
    Oh oh Impeachment
    Bring on Impeachment
    To destroy the buccaneers

  • Danp on July 24, 2011 10:10 AM:

    Observer, your observations are so incredibly fuzzy, I won't even try to enlighten you. But the screen name is hillarious.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on July 24, 2011 10:23 AM:

    Hello Steve. Duh. Not new.

  • screwrepubs on July 24, 2011 10:29 AM:

    Benen, I'm glad that you keep highlighting the fact that Repubs are more interested in keeping this POTUS from a victory/re-election than doing what's good for the country or even getting things that they claim to want. I get frustrated when I hear liberals complaining about the POTUS not getting involved in the process or "leading" on issues. THIS IS WHY!!!! Every time he says he likes something or agrees with something, the immediate reaction from the right is to be against it even if the right just stated the same thing a minute before. I get sick of everybody calling the POTUS weak and not a strong leader because he isn't "vocal" enough for them. NOW WE KNOW WHY!...and it's time that everyone comes to grip with this fact and start pointing the finger more at the right instead of the POTUS who has BTW demonstrated time and time again that he is willing to work with these "frothing-at-the mouth" right wingers.

  • zandru on July 24, 2011 10:33 AM:


    We need to keep in mind that the Republicans, particularly the ultra-reactionary Tea Baggin' set, are big believers in the upcoming End Of The World. Armageddon. When Jeezus returns to smite the unbelievers, reward the good (assumed to be themselves), and massive, all-encompassing destruction reigns.

    Listen to these guys talk about how default would be good for the country, how "we" need to go through this momentary pain (they assume that their own salaries and perqs will remain untouched throughout), how the US "deserves" it for having over-spent. (Under their party, but hey! who's counting?)

    We're being ruled, in fact, by people whose interest in what's best for the country is 180° off of what most people think of as "good."

    way oustsTra - yes, what is the way to oust these crazies?

  • Steve P on July 24, 2011 10:39 AM:

    We've reached a point where the people controlling government and the discourse include a sizable number who believe that no matter what happens, they can lock a gate and wait until the blood stops running in the streets.

    Nothing will break the impasse until brokers start making calls and describing exactly what will happen to certain people's investment portfolios. I think Grover Norquist's broker has already made the call.

  • JW on July 24, 2011 10:39 AM:

    One party engineered the Iraq War with Big Lies. The other party acquiesced, going so far as to perpetuate the myth that "good people mad poor decisions based on bad intelligence". Wars cost money (and blood, of course). Really, what more did people need to know about the caliber of political "leadership" in this country to avoid being shocked by these recent turn of events?

    The chickens are coming home to roost.

  • Shelly on July 24, 2011 10:41 AM:

    The comments under the George Will article are encouraging. I think the tide is changing. More and more people are voicing their objections to the Teaxtremists.

  • Josef K on July 24, 2011 11:25 AM:

    From Observer @9:26am:

    So for once, please shut up about the Republicans and go tend to the ostensibly pro liberal Democrats you socialize with and tell them to go fix the problems you folks created with your bullshit excuses, equivocations and naiviete.

    Project much, friend?

    I'm not arguing with the characterization of both the President's actions or the legislation of the last couple years. But this last paragraph wasn't helpful in the slightest.

  • Speed on July 24, 2011 11:32 AM:

    George Will has been part of the Washington establishment since the 70s. It's just comical to watch him pretend to be part of the Tea Party movement.

  • June on July 24, 2011 11:49 AM:

    Republicans are again delusional in the extreme if they think they have a snowball's chance in hell of taking White House in 2012 with their disgusting collection of presidential candidates rife with self-loathers, clowns, liars, sociopaths, incompetents, traitors and buffoons.

  • pluege on July 24, 2011 11:51 AM:

    Why would Boehner reject a proposal tilted so heavily in the GOP’s favor? In part because it came from President Obama.

    if this is the case, let them hate obama more and more and more, because what obama is giving away in support of the plutocratic agenda is unconscionable - there flat out is no excuse for what obama is doing, no realpolitik, no 'good for the country' rationalizing, and its not even remotely good for the economy. Its outright lining the pockets of the plutocrats at the expense of everyone else.

    if republican bigotry is all that stands in the way of the massive assault of the wealthy on working Americans, then so be it, at least something is standing in the way (what a pathetic country, what a pathetic society, what a pathetic peoples.)

  • June on July 24, 2011 12:12 PM:

    @Observer, I've read that Obama's offer was to gradually raise the age for entry into Medicare to age 67 by *2036* -- if your scornful remarks may be interrupted for a moment - what you aren't taking into account is that the Affordable Care Act will be fully underway by that time, offering people up to age 67 (if the age is raised to that) insurance protections and federal subsidies through a completely different (and much better) insurance landscape from the one we have in 2011.

    "Only decent single-payer plan in the country"? I guess you haven't heard that Vermont has taken advantage of a clause in the ACA that allows states to develop their own healthcare exchanges as long as it matches or exceeds that of the ACA, and that Vermont chose to develop a single-payer system (a benefit of this clause that thankfully, Republicans were too dense to understand, and thus, did not single out for demonization.) Any state is free to follow suit, therefore allowing single-payer to flourish throughout the country (of course, we know it will only be blue states that take advantage of this, but red states make their own bed).

    It's amazing to me how people will sometimes righteously call out Benen when they seem to have not thought things through themselves.

  • Kathryn on July 24, 2011 12:13 PM:

    Agree with Bleh and Chicago-Rob, I don't think there would have even been a Tea Party if Hillary had been elected. I supported Obama from the beginning and will again; however, I never believed the force and depth of racism that is present in this country existed to the degree that is does, it's heartbreaking. The rest of the world sees it for what it is and we are greatly and deservedly diminished by it.

  • karen marie on July 24, 2011 12:33 PM:

    Observer -- I don't think "observer" means what you think it does. Or perhaps your pseudonym is aspirational? Whichever, you're doing it wrong.

  • bigtuna on July 24, 2011 12:34 PM:

    We have really reached the point at which GOP officials are so filled with spite that they’d turn down a sweet deal from the White House, based entirely on their hatred of the president.

    fixed this. Your rhetorical use of questions, when you are really casting facts, should some. I think? :)

  • Jon on July 24, 2011 1:03 PM:

    Pelosi + 30 Republicans. Clean bill.

  • Califlander on July 24, 2011 1:05 PM:

    The President needs to give a prime time speech in which he forcefully establishes his opposition to jumping off cliffs.

    Problems solved.

  • TCinLA on July 24, 2011 1:26 PM:

    How long does it take for it to sink in that the Confederate White Supremacy Party is never going to accept that there's a Ni-ii-iiii... (oh god, they want to say it so bad!) in the White House? For these people, there's a reason it's the White House.

    It's time we started prying their cold dead hands from their guns and when we're done with them this time they don't get to take their rifles and horses back to the farms.

  • buddy66 on July 24, 2011 2:08 PM:

    Groucho Marx Republicans: "Whatever he's for—we're against it!"

  • Stephen Stralka on July 24, 2011 3:05 PM:

    This is a key point, and it seems like a lot of smart people don't quite get it. We've got all these people saying Obama's sold us out, he's President Pushover, but there's this incredibly basic logic to this situation that these folks keep missing.

    The crucial question right now is whether there is any conceivable compromise at all that the House Republicans will accept. If not, then Obama's actions make perfect sense. He can keep pushing more and more obviously one-sided deals knowing they'll reject anything short of 100% of what they demand.

    Of course it's a gamble, because what if he's wrong? What if they do suddenly say yes? Well, for one thing the House Republicans are not just any 240 people. In fact, a lot of them got there basically by winning a contest to see who hates Barack Obama the most. And all of them have passed through this process called the Republican primaries that has proven quite successful at finding the stupidest and meanest people in the country, and they've all spent the past couple of years stewing in this propaganda that says Obama was basically sent by Satan himself to destroy America.

    So it's not at all inconceivable that there is no deal Obama could offer that the yahoos would accept, and I suspect Obama has a better sense of the actual probabilities than most of us.

    Yeah, yeah, Britney Spears. Whatever. What I actually see is a bunch of anti-Britneys who aren't even willing to consider the possibility that maybe Obama's intentions aren't nefarious.

  • nk007 on July 24, 2011 3:31 PM:

    The people who accuse Obama of selling out call him "President Pushover" demonstrate their ignorance of how the political system works. This is not a dictatorship. I also think that many of them, though they claim to be progressives, are just as a racist because they expect the President to do everything exactly as they the tell him. It's really amazing to see the difference between the international respect PRESIDENT Obama receives and the utter disrespect he gets from both the right and the "holier than thou" progressives. Why they never even dignify him with the title President. It's always Obama this and Obama that. But you know what, people can hate President Obama all they want but few will ever rise as high as he has. I also think history will treat him very well.

  • Jurgan on July 24, 2011 3:43 PM:

    I've said for a while, the way these people act, we could get medicare-for-all if only President Obama would come out against it.

  • max on July 24, 2011 4:07 PM:

    Good article. This has always been about defeating Obama, nothing more, nothing less.

  • Bonnie on July 24, 2011 7:01 PM:

    Steve Benen said: "Welcome to the politics of petty, childish spite." And, welcome to the politics of racism.

  • kangjia on July 25, 2011 8:50 AM:

    I tide fashion Good-looking, not expensive Free transport

  • Gilbert Herald on July 25, 2011 3:27 PM:

    If the republicans want to cut the Social security disability trust fund then we should have quotas on companies to hire the disabled!, We should also make it easier for a disabled job applicant to prove discrimination,We disabled are clearly at a disadvantage and we have to be given a advantage somewhere!. If we can't have a handout, then give us a hand up!