Political Animal


August 05, 2011 1:40 PM GOP pushes accountability-free economic agenda

By Steve Benen

Under ideal circumstances, President Obama would come up with an economic plan and execute it. If the agenda succeeded, he’d get the credit. If it faltered, Republicans would call him on it. Voters could evaluate the results and decide whether to keep the president around or go back to GOP economic policies.

But those circumstances are nowhere to be found. Rather, we’re stuck looking in this funhouse-mirror in which Republicans block Democratic economic policies, and then condemn the policies for failing. Worse, as Adam Serwer noted, these same GOP officials are “actively pursuing policies that make the problem worse, and then attacking the president for the results.”

In every meaningful way, this is exactly the dynamic we’re dealing with. Kevin Drum had a good summary on this last night, which he conceded is so absurd, it’s “kind of hard to believe.”

2001-2008: Republicans run economy into ditch.

2008: Obama elected.

2009-2011: Republicans respond by doing everything possible to prevent him from fixing things.

2012: Republicans use lousy economy as campaign cudgel against Obama.

2012: Republican candidate wins presidency (maybe).

Arguably one of the most dramatic Democratic dilemmas of 2011 and 2012 is overcoming the realization that Republicans are getting their way on economic policy and then denying any responsibility for the results. Indeed, it’s a rather extraordinary con: GOP officials see much of their agenda implemented, then see it fail, and then blame Obama when their policies don’t work.

Especially over the last couple of days, the underlying Republican pitch in response to economic anxiety and recession fears is, “See? It’s time to try things our way.”

What goes largely overlooked is the fact that we already are trying things their way. Whether Republicans want to admit it or not, the economy is advancing exactly as they want it to. The private sector is being left to its own devices; the public sector is shedding jobs and scrapping investments; and the only permitted topic of conversation is about debt reduction.

This is the script the GOP wrote.

In fairness, I realize GOP officials aren’t getting everything they want. The EPA still exists; OSHA is still looking out for worker safety; corporate tax rates have not yet been slashed, etc.

But consider the larger landscape. Bush tax breaks in effect for a decade? Check. No more stimulus? Check. Massive debt-reduction package approved? Check. States and municipalities forced to cut back and fend for themselves? Check.

What are Republicans complaining about? Why blame Dems for the performance of the GOP agenda?

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.


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  • theAmericanist on August 05, 2011 1:47 PM:

    Q. "Why blame Dems for the performance of the GOP agenda?"

    A. Because it doesn't work.

  • Danp on August 05, 2011 1:49 PM:

    Kevin Drum's 2009-11 timeline above is missing one very important thing.

    Republicans force Obama and Dems to vote for massive spending cuts (many of which they could have done without any Dem agreement; the rest of which are non-binding on future Congresses) as a way of "proving" that everyone agrees these cuts are necessary.

  • Ray Waldren on August 05, 2011 1:50 PM:

    Questions to ask Republican presidential candidates. How will you as President get an incompetant Congress to assist you in getting the economy turned around? Jobs created, the like. They are great at tearing things apart, but they may not be able to fix what they've destroyed.

  • Anonymous on August 05, 2011 1:51 PM:

    Republican economics may seem incoherent, but they are actually following an economic philosophy that was somewhat popular a hundred years ago, called Austrian economics.

    Adherents looked with disdain at anything to do with historical data, numbers, experience, measurement, or pretty much anything economists look at.


    Okay Republican economic theory really is incoherent.

  • smartalek on August 05, 2011 1:51 PM:

    "Why blame Dems for the performance of the GOP agenda?"

    Because, as you yourself pointed out above, it works on every level:
    it gets them elected
    it strengthens their party politically
    it serves the ends of their corporate masters
    it sells the larger corporate / Publican narrative, convincing a very large fraction of Americans -- many of whom really ought to know better -- that up is down and black is white (specifically, that both tax cuts -- for the wealthy and corporations, of course, not for the middle and working classes -- and deregulation both increase government revenues and grow the economy -- both of which are obviously false... which has less than zero impact on the people who've accepted this as reality)

    Or was that a rhetorical question?

  • stormskies on August 05, 2011 1:55 PM:

    2001-2008: Republicans run economy into ditch.

    2008: Obama elected.

    2009-2011: Republicans respond by doing everything possible to prevent him from fixing things.

    2012: Republicans use lousy economy as campaign cudgel against Obama.

    2012: Republican candidate wins presidency (maybe).

    And we will all waited with baited breath to see these facts reported on all the nightly news=propaganda tonight ....

  • Zorro on August 05, 2011 2:02 PM:

    1) Trash the economy
    2) ?
    3) PROFIT! (for our connected friends)

    Simple, no?

  • smartalek on August 05, 2011 2:06 PM:

    Oh, and I forgot to mention this:
    It's far from clear that Obama and the rest of the Vichy Dem's really want to "fix... things."
    When certain types of lefties castigate Obama and the Congressional Dem's for "giving in," "folding," "pre-conceding" the Publicans' demands, etcetc, they're assuming that what Obama and the Dem's really want is what we want.
    It's far from clear that that is the case; the evidence fits at least as well (and many would argue far better) with the possibility that Obama is even more of a "moderate Republican" than the Clintons were/are, and is largely getting what he really wants for our country.
    He's certainly spent enough time and energy lately parroting the Publican / corporate line.
    At this point, does it really matter whether he's doing so as a political and rhetorical strategy, or because he himself buys into it partially or fully?

    BTW, the captcha has just shown me a Chinese character (or set thereof); anyone seen that before?
    Be interesting to see what happens when I hit "post" now.

  • smartalek on August 05, 2011 2:08 PM:

    FWIW, I entered only the single captcha word written in the Roman alphabet, completely ignoring the Chinese writing.
    It worked.

  • QuestionEverything on August 05, 2011 2:08 PM:


    Now we have to figure out how to make Republicans work against themselves, inform the public (not just with facts because if they watch Fox or don't care about 'those facts,' they aren't going to listen), and get a second stimulus or equivalent to fix this. If we had only known all along that facts don't matter. Competence doesn't matter. Logic and rational thought can't hold a candle to nonsense, impulsiveness, and anger/fear.

    We're starting to understand what we're dealing with. Now figure out a strategy to flip the 'general consensus' of ignorant Americans everywhere to see what is actually happening, support a viable solution, and vote against the GOP until they start acting responsibly and start to help, not hurt America. Simple stuff.

    You're going to have to start with some silly assumptions and base your strategy off that. You know like, using 'facts' but facts don't register with Americans unless you feed it to them in overly simplistic terms that dilute nuance and any real understanding of issues, in a way that is either entertaining or emotionally satisfying (anger, patriotism, etc.).

    Then find a 'popular' and 'easy' way for American's to inform themselves within a very short period of time to cover everything.

    Is there such a thing as counter-indoctrination for the Fox crowd? If not, give up on those dipshits and work on the 'Independent Voters' that watch 5 minutes of cable news a day or read all the headlines (all the information that you need) and maybe one or two articles a day to get their 'news.'

    But then, you might lose what you have now, intelligence, credibility, command of issues/policy, at least in our eyes.

  • Archon on August 05, 2011 2:14 PM:

    That's why I'd be okay if we (gulp) increased the power of the presidency to control the legislative agenda. I would never dream of doing that if everyone in this country was informed, but it seems like the President is the only one who is really held accountable regardless of the outragous actions of the out party.

    Parlimentary systems have their problems too but at least voters don't have to dicipher the degree of legislative hurdles the prime minister had to go through to enact his agenda before deciding how to cast their vote.

  • 2Manchu on August 05, 2011 2:24 PM:

    These are the same people who blame the housing collapse on poor minorities. I don't expect them to change any time soon.

  • NoVACre on August 05, 2011 2:31 PM:

    The question to me is why is Obama playing along with this con? Occasionally "the adult in the room" does need to provide some discipline to their out of control children and Obama has not really done that, and its showing up in his polling numbers.

  • Mitch on August 05, 2011 2:35 PM:

    "What are Republicans complaining about? Why blame Dems for the performance of the GOP agenda?"

    Because they can. The Republicans are not going to take credit for their failures, the media is not going to call them out. And it's not as though the Dems are doing a good job of articulating this mess. Obama blames it on "Washington", seemingly oblivious to the fact that such a blanket statement spreads the blame onto the Dems and onto himself. Indeed, since the Dems control the Senate and the White House, there are a lot more Dems available to shoulder the blame.

    Every Democratic politician who opens his/her mouth should be listing the facts, explaining what the Republicans are doing and calling them out for their actions. The Republicans have no problem blaming Obama and the Dems for, well, everything. Bush did the same thing when he was President.

    Do the politicians in our party ever stop to think, "Maybe those people blame us because the Republicans keep blaming us?"

    The fact that we keep giving the Repugs what they want only makes it worse; especially since these actions only hurt the economy even more.

    Are Obama and the D's really that naive? Or is it what @smartalek said above:

    "... that Obama is even more of a "moderate Republican" than the Clintons were/are, and is largely getting what he really wants for our country."

    I don't want to believe that. I want to believe that the Democratic Party is still the party I believe in.

    But it is up to Obama and the Dems to earn my trust and support. The party exists to serve us not the other way around.

    Every day I keep hearing the voice of Bill Hicks:

    '"I think the puppet on the right shares my beliefs."
    '"I think the puppet on the left is more to my liking."
    '"Hey, wait a minute, there's one guy holding out both puppets!"
    '"Shut up! Go back to bed, America. Your government is in control.'

  • jjm on August 05, 2011 2:52 PM:

    You nailed it, Steve. I'm spreading the word.

  • Rachel on August 05, 2011 3:10 PM:

    Question: Why does the GOP push an "accountability-free" agenda?

    Answer: Because no one holds them accountable.

    Can we play more of Mad Magazine's Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions?

  • Jilli on August 05, 2011 3:16 PM:

    I had this discussion with a friend last night. You constantly hear "Obama's economy" and "Obama's debt/deficit" "Obama's failure to create jobs", "Obama's problem" yada, yada yada. If this is all Obama's doing - and he's soley responsible, then why do we bother to elect and pay the salaries of the members of congress. Aren't they elected to resolve the nations problems? It's hooey, this is OUR problem, all of us - Congress included - it's not the sole responsibility of the President. I'm just not buying that line - the President can't just do whatever he wants, it's congress that really calls the shots. If there's blame - it should be shared with congress - in fact it should be weighed heavily in their direction.

  • SYSPROG on August 05, 2011 3:16 PM:

    T-shirts anyone???

  • Barbara on August 05, 2011 4:08 PM:

    One important clarification. The Bush Tax cuts actually end at the end of 2012. By then, Obama will be re-elected and hopefully most of the Tea party members are voted out of Congress.

  • Barbara on August 05, 2011 4:12 PM:

    Below is a link to a very good article regarding the debt deal - the devil is in the details.


  • mk3872 on August 05, 2011 4:20 PM:

    This is one thing I don't get about reasonable left-leaning commentators like Benen.

    Every single debate that is seen as conservative vs. liberal or assigning blame that goes against your beliefs, you put the blame on the Democratic party for not getting the message out.

    But isn't the blame really on the media?

    The media and the right-wing media are setting the themese and the agenda, not the Democratic party.

  • Mitch on August 05, 2011 4:48 PM:


    The one problem with blaming the media is that we simply cannot do anything about them. Until such a time as the corporate media empires are destroyed, they will be allowed to spew their vile, ignorant filth. As much as I hate them (especially the News Corp empire) they do have the right to say whatever they feel like saying, and I wouldn't want to take it away from them.

    But Obama (especially) and the Dems feed the meme. I donated to, and voted for, Obama in 2008, and I will do so again in 2012; but he has a nasty habit of reinforcing Republican talking points, and he is way too polite when he (barely) calls them out. Just like the debt ceiling debacle was "Washington's" fault, according to Obama, when it was really 100% the fault of the Repug Tea Baggers.

    The media may be setting the themes, but Obama and the D's are not doing much to raise a voice against them. I expect the corporate media to be on the Republican side; I do not expect the Democratic Party to be enablers of those themes (either passively or actively).

  • Rick Massimo on August 05, 2011 6:27 PM:

    They can do this because they'll go on the air for the next year and proclaim that "Obama's spending spree" got us into this predicament. And everyone (who counts) will just know that that's true because - you know, because.

    Throw in a little voter suppression and bingo.

  • Another Steve on August 05, 2011 7:05 PM:

    2013-14. New Republican president and Congress implement exact policies they blocked for preceding four years.

    2014-16, Republicans run on economic success engendered by policies other than those they actually enacted.

  • Doug on August 05, 2011 8:22 PM:

    The fact that Congressional Republicans' approval ratings rank the lowest in almost ALL polls is something to think about.
    If what is posted here and on other similarly-inclined blogs is anything to go by, the American people are little more than sheep, being gullibly led around by their collective noses by Republican "talking points" and the corporate Media that pushes it. Then why are Congressional Republicans the most disapproved group in DC?
    Could it be that the "sheeple" AREN'T as unaware of what is really going on as many like to think? It's a fact that the President, ANY President, is the first to receive blame for whatever economic ills the country suffers. The FIRST, but not necessarily the LAST.
    When the public sees President Obama, they see a man recognizing that we face problems and that the problems are causing pain and suffering. They ALSO see a man who offers ideas and proposes actions to help those suffering. What do they see Republican/Teabaggers offering in response? One word: No. No more extensions of unemployment insurance. No spending increases to provide jobs and rebuild our roads and bridges. No money so poor school children can get a decent meal, possibly their only one of the day. No to everything, that is, EXCEPT more tax cuts for the rich, or subsidies for corporations making record profits, or, worse still, subsidies to corporations when they ship jobs overseas.
    Right now I'm beginning to think the Republicans are their own worst enemies. Everytime they open their mouths, they either directly insult or anger even more voters. The MSM, in giving so much air time to Republican/Teabaggers, may not be doing the GOP such a great favor after all.
    I wonder if, right now, the Democrats shouldn't be concentrating on STATE/LOCAL politics, while fighting holding operations on the NATIONAL political front? I can't see many voters splitting their ticket by only voting for Democrats EXCEPT for the Presidential race. Conversely, I CAN see a lot of voters selecting Democrats locally and then going on and ALSO voting for a Democratic President, Senator(s) and Representatives.
    Does anyone think it would be worthwhile for, say, OFA to ask Howard Dean to provide his input/expertise for organizing, nominating, and running Democrats, NOT DINOs, in as many races as possible? Both Mr. Dean and OFA have operated on the "50 state strategy" and could possibly have a synergistic effect on each other.
    Or it could blow up like Krakatoa...

  • beejeez on August 05, 2011 11:10 PM:

    The tactical mistake by Democrats in this debt-ceiling mess has been to characterize it as a hard-won compromise. The Prez and Dems need to explain that the disciplined GOP beat them like a baby seal and that's why Republicans own the economy now. Enjoy, America.

  • Craig on August 08, 2011 12:08 PM:

    There is something else missing from the Timeline: along with "2012 - Republican candidate wins White House (maybe)" it should also read "2012 - Republican candidates lose MANY seats in congress (probably)". If the reason why the GOP has done this is because of an "everything-but-the-kitchen-sink" ploy to sink Obama's re-election chances (which may work, depending on the eventual GOP nominee), they're also shooting themselves in the kneecaps. Voters are not going to forget what Boener and the rest have been saying in the media in the weeks leading up to this disaster.

  • WeeWillie on August 08, 2011 2:30 PM:

    "Massive debt-reduction package approved? Check."
    You're kidding, right?

  • christine shapiro on August 14, 2011 7:38 PM:

    So what is Pres. Obama proposing should happen - in concrete, down-to-earth terms - what are his proposals? Where is the program? Why isn't it being printed in newspapers and magazines? People need to see in print something we can carry around, show to our neighbors, and discuss if we are to trust that Pres. Obama has a chance to actually do the job. I'd like to see suggestions that are concrete. And then he needs to make them happen. Then we can again begin to believe in Mr. Obama's ability to understand what the problem is and how to tackle it. So far, all he has said is theoretical and visionary, not concrete, and vision is not what the country needs right now. We need Roosevelt-like, concrete programs that display a result with a quick turnaround. Can't this happen anymore? Is our government too big and clumsy to do anything effective - like fix bridges that are crumbling!