Political Animal


September 21, 2011 2:15 PM When economic motives come into question

By Steve Benen

We talked this morning about the top four congressional Republican leaders writing a joint letter to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. The plea was pretty straightforward — the GOP leaders have decided to actively lobby Bernanke, pressing him to let the economy stay on its downward trajectory and to not even try to help.

David Frum, a center-right observer, had a noteworthy response to the Republican correspondence.

I’m not shocked by much anymore, 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. […]

[T]he GOP leadership is urging that the Federal Reserve make the catastrophe worse? To what end?

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…. This is the hour for united action against the economic crisis, not partisan maneuvering.

Frum doesn’t come right out and say it explicitly, but reading this, it appears Frum believes Republican leaders are — or at least may be — trying to hurt the economy on purpose, as part of a political strategy to undermine President Obama during a crisis.

In other words, Frum seems to be suggesting that the top GOP officials in Congress, including the entire party leadership, may be involved in some kind of sabotage campaign. That’s no small charge.

But it is an increasingly common one. Michael Cohen, a senior fellow at American Security Project, apparently following up on a discussion I launched last November, said this afternoon, “We’re far past the point where there is reason to doubt that the GOP is purposely trying to harm” the economy.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), vice chairman of the Senate Democratic Conference, believes “some” Republicans “want the economy to actually fail.” Paul Krugman recently said in his column, “[I]t’s hard to avoid the suspicion that G.O.P. leaders actually want the economy to perform badly.” Eugene Robinson, a Pulitzer Prize winner, was recently asked whether it’s possible Republicans would sabotage the economy. “Well, let me be honest,” he said. “It has occurred to me that this is a possibility.” E.J. Dionne Jr. and Dan Gross have raised the same concerns.

A few months ago, Kevin Drum wondered whether this will ever be “a serious talking point,” adding, “No serious person in a position of real influence really wants to accuse an entire party of cynically trying to tank the economy, after all.”

Given recent events — the debt-ceiling scandal, the GOP-driven downgrade, the Republican rejection of any efforts to boost the economy, the letter to Bernanke, the repeated threats of government shutdowns — it appears all kinds of serious people are at least entertaining the possibility.

Update: It looks like Andrew Sullivan is thinking along the same lines, too: “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.”

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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  • c u n d gulag on September 21, 2011 2:26 PM:

    It walks like a duck.
    It swims like a duck.
    It quacks like a duck.

    JESUS H. CHRIST at a roundtable, will one of you finally stop saying, 'Well, it looks supiciously like it could maybe, possibly, be a duck," and instead scream, "IT'S A DUCK!!!"

    If the MSM on the left don't shout it, how can the rest of the MSM hear anything above the sound of the Right-wing Wurlitzer?

  • MuddyLee on September 21, 2011 2:26 PM:

    Wake up mainstream media. The Republican party IS, and has been, trying to sabotage the economy so they can win back the White House. I guess they believe Jim DeMint when he says the Obama administration is "anti-American". And maybe they believe Newt Gingrich when he talks about "Kenyan influence". But wait wasn't the real Kenyan influence from the pastor who came to Palin's church in Wasilla talking about demons and witchcraft? Or maybe they believed Donald Trump when he was talking nonsense about Obama's birth certificate. Too bad they don't listen to anybody with brains - but the Koch brothers and Roger Ailes don't like brains.

  • SW on September 21, 2011 2:31 PM:


  • Okie on September 21, 2011 2:32 PM:

    The more people who are saying "sabotage" out loud, the better. Because it's the truth.

    I read FrumForum every day. The poor man wants Huntsman or Romney to get the nomination. He thinks Perry is a bad joke. But Frum is, at heart, an Israel-first tribal Republican who will vote for whoever is running against Obama. He dislikes Obama a lot, but doesn't much talk about why.

  • Danp on September 21, 2011 2:34 PM:

    The fact that the mainstream media isn't picking up on this suggests that they are uncomfortable calling the charge outrageous. When is the last time that happened? And how is it that even Republicans are merely pretending the charge hasn't been repeatedly made? I think we can now classify the charge as "conventional wisdom".

  • kevo on September 21, 2011 2:37 PM:

    I've always known David Frum and I were from the same cut of conservatism - thoughtful yet cautionary when facing the issues of the day! I was greatly heartened when he finally stepped out and called the crazy what it was, and now he continues the effort with his most recent observation.

    Too bad David has become a persona non grata because he braves the truth, and refuses to abandon it for political profit!

    If you haven't noticed yet, you're not paying attention!

    The Republican Brand at this juncture is anathema to our political culture and its heritage! -Kevo

  • Rick B on September 21, 2011 2:46 PM:

    This may be why Lamar Alexander is resigning as GOP Senate Whip. Even he can't stomach being in the leadership with the radical Republicans as they try to destroy America to gain power.

  • SYSPROG on September 21, 2011 2:48 PM:

    SCREAM IT FROM THE ROOFTOPS! With a majority watching Fox 'News' this will not get out until the people demand it. It's not just Frum. This morning Lamar Alexander was on the Daily Rundown and when asked about this denied knowing anything and when told about it made an odd remark like (Kyl signed it? Then no I wouldn't have anything to do with it.) This is absolute CRAP. When the DIXIE CHICKS for pete's sake said 'Bush is not MY President' we had to hear it on an endless loop for days. But having sitting congresscritters trying an endrun around the Fed and everyone is sitting there dumbfounded? Are you KIDDING me???

  • jjm on September 21, 2011 2:51 PM:

    I still wonder why the GOP is so desperate to 'stop Obama,' as they put it, that they are demeaning, humiliating, and sullying themselves with such deplorable and unconscionable tactics.

    What are they so scared to death of?

    So scared they're willing to alienate the electorate (those 19% approval ratings), and condemn the nation to sink into depression.

    It may simply be because they don't want to see the beginnings of a reversal of over thirty years of government policies that fostered 'booty' capitalism at the expense of most people.

    But it seems to run deeper than that: a fear so immense it can hardly be named. Of white minority status?

    Everything they have done, especially since taking the House, smacks of an excess that is far beyond normal politics, or even the ordinary desire to take power back. Something more sinister is at work here, and I for one would like to see some actual analysis of this. They can't all be mesmerized by Ayn Rand, Hayek, the Koch Brothers, can they, in some kind of mass psychosis... or maybe they can? Whatever it is, it is powerful and frightening.

  • sick-n-effn-tired. on September 21, 2011 2:53 PM:

    Well I for one just know this will be explained in full on the Nightly NOOZE when they express their collective outrage .
    Seriously it will be 20 or 30 second blurb as follows: Republicans don't support Bernake plans offer suggestions , Democrats disagree .
    In entertainment nooze.......

  • T2 on September 21, 2011 3:06 PM:

    today on NPR, I heard a quote from a GOPer Congressman, and I forgot his name, but the topic was the slump in new housing purchases. The reason given was that the new regulations in place to get a mortgage loan (because of the Recession caused by no regulations on mortage loans) made it too hard for some people to qualify.
    This GOPer actually said the solution to slow home sales would be to go back to the less stringent regulations of 10 years ago. Yes, Yes....his solution to bad home sales is to go back to the situation that CAUSED the bad home sales in the first place. Can these people be that stupid???? Geez, how can they even get a drivers license?

  • Anonymous on September 21, 2011 3:09 PM:

    Good thing Chairman Bernanke ignored this morning's mail!

    Breaking News Alert
    The New York Times
    Wednesday, September 21, 2011 -- 2:40 PM EDT

    Fed Moves on Long-Term Rates to Spur Growth

    The Federal Reserve announced a new plan Wednesday to stimulate growth by purchasing $400 billion in long-term Treasury securities with proceeds from the sale of short-term government debt, defying Republican demands to refrain from new actions.

  • Dude on September 21, 2011 3:18 PM:

    Why is all these pundits are wondering this... AGAIN? All of these pundits, sans Frum, have been saying the same thing for YEARS now. The GOP declared their intention to do this YEARS ago. Benen, why are you even pretending like this is some new revelation?

  • j on September 21, 2011 3:23 PM:

    If democrats pulled this stunt (which they would not) the rethugs would all be calling them traitors to the country, which is exactly what the repubs are.

  • Anonymous on September 21, 2011 3:24 PM:

  • Ray Waldren on September 21, 2011 3:33 PM:

    Question is do these bozos have the brains to fix what they are breaking?

  • Dick Hendricks on September 21, 2011 3:35 PM:

    Let us face it, the Republican "leaders", both in and out of elective office, have been, for months if not years, stating directly(McConnell of Kentucky) or indirectly(many others), that their prime objective from NOW to Nov. 2012 is to defeat Pres. Obama. They have all made it clear that they will do nothing which might "help" his Administration, including efforts to pull the economy out of its' tailspin.

    This letter that the four "leaders" of the Republican Senate and House is, amazingly, written proof of their conspiracy, to let the economy sink, or at least continue to wallow, in its' present cesspool.
    Some people want us to pay attention to what they say; others prefer that we look at what they do. Here, the Republican is telling us, and "do-ing" ...with such actions as this letter.They want America to continue hurting, in the hope that it will help them politically.

    There can be no other understanding of their intention. As a clear conspiracy to damage the United States of America, their actions should be held up to our citizens for what it is, an effort to hurt America, for their political gain.

  • Harvest on September 21, 2011 3:41 PM:

    So glad to see that Bernanke essentially told Cantor & Company to go fuck themselves this afternoon. The latest GOP game of threatening and insulting the Fed chairman is simply outrageous. Why doesn't the press ever ask the GOP bullies why they want to fire and harm their fellow Republican, who, by the way, was installed by their buddy George W.?

  • ameshall on September 21, 2011 3:42 PM:

    The GOP is not tanking the economy for "short-term" political gain. They are tanking the economy for long-term political gain. If the next President is a Republican, he (or she) will appoint more than one Supreme Court justice, thereby tilting the Court even further to the right. If you liked Citizens United, you'll love the new Court, which will have no trouble throwing out the health reform act and many other legislative achievements that benefit ordinary Americans. If you think the Senate can stop a President Perry from doing so, consider that the balance of the Senate is expected to shift in favor of the GOP in 2012 based on the states in play, and the GOP governors have done all they can to impede Democrats from voting.

    The GOP is smart enough to know that if they can win in 2012, they can reset the country's course for decades. Supreme Court opinions cannot be undone quickly -- just ask those who've been working for 40 years to overturn Roe v. Wade. Don't underestimate the GOP's long-term planning here.

  • exlibra on September 21, 2011 4:36 PM:

    If the next President is a Republican, he (or she) will appoint more than one Supreme Court justice, thereby tilting the Court even further to the right. -- ameshall, @3:42

    This is a *crucial* fact to always keep in mind. Barring the unexpected (Thomas forgets to wake up, Scaldalia goes duck hunting with Dead-Eye again, Roberts succumbs to one of his "fits"), the next two vacancies are likely to be on our side.

    "slidings salients". Very. We've already slid way too far to the right.

  • SecularAnimist on September 21, 2011 4:42 PM:

    Of course, no political party would do such a thing.

    But the Republicans are no longer a political party.

    They are an organized crime gang masquerading as a political party.

  • June on September 21, 2011 5:44 PM:

    Somehow, this nation has been brainwashed into tip-toeing around direct, open, frank criticism of Republicans - even when one is just speaking fact - and to shrug our shoulders as Republicans openly bray about how they want to destroy an American presidency purely for the sake of re-taking power. A Republican can say anything against Democrats - and not have a shred of credibility - (deadbeat dad, Joe Walsh, comes to mind; and that POS, Saxby Chambliss) and it is almost NEVER too outrageous.

    The fact that Republicans are still deferred to on the pundit talk shows, in spite of the fact that they tried to deliberately destroy the nation's economy, is infuriating (not surprising) to see.

    This country deserves a Tea Party President. And no one deserves it more than the liberal'er-than-thou'ers, whose mission in life seems to be to match the GOP's vitriol against Obama, depress Democratic voter turnout, and deliver the country up to another generation of lost decades.

  • John on September 21, 2011 7:39 PM:

    It looks like Andrew Sullivan is thinking along the same lines, too: "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."

    What is it going to take for one of these well-paid mouthpieces to finally come out and say exactly what this is: treason?

  • Doug on September 21, 2011 7:41 PM:

    I don't understand WHY Republican/Teabaggers think that a bad economy will automatically ensure the defeat of President Obama in 2012. In 2012, presuming the economy is still much as it is now, WHY do Republicans think voters won't hold them accountable for preventing any moves to improve the economy?
    The only basis for such an idea that I can come up with is the old CW that no President can get re-elected if the uneployment rate is 7% or higher. Is THAT the entirety of the Republican/Teabagger strategy for 2012? They're going to completely ignore the optics of a President proposing legislation to help create jobs, while they do nothing except whine about "uncertainty"? When the only "uncertainty" existing or contemplated comes from THEM?
    They're going to send letters demanding the Federal Reserve do NOTHING that might help the economy? And this while the leading Republican Presidential candidate slanders the Chairman of that Board?
    They want to slash "entitlements", something even their supporters object to, while the recipients of said "entitlements" fully understand such cuts will leave them with less money? All this while ensuring that not a single new dollar is raised to meet what Republican/Teabaggers apparently consider the direst situation this country has ever faced - a $14 trillion debt, 3/4's of which THEY ran up?
    Topping all this off, they're so cockily confident, they've actually ANNOUNCED their plans in advance, in front of witnesses. Now they're being faced with news outlets and friendly pundits actually saying and writing that the Republican strategy is to ensure a bad economy in order to defeat President Obama. THIS is the great "plan" that ensures President Obama is a one-term President? When, in reality, this has all the makings of the 1936 "Liberty Magazine" fiasco, only larger.
    I almost I wish I could feel sorry for them...

  • jjm on September 21, 2011 9:34 PM:

    I guess the GOP is under the illusion that Citizens United GUARANTEES the GOP victory in 2012.

    Let's hope the people show them they're wrong.

    But you have to admit that there is something very maniacal in their behavior which is NOT politics as usual.

    I think they may very well know that the economy is actually improving in key areas and they are trying to tamp that back down as much as possible.

    I see a lot of cars on the highways, a lot of people going to work. I know it's not everywhere, but I understand that even in California state revenue is slightly UP not down.

    Something we do not yet know, but that the GOP is scared to death of, may be happening and they are very anxious to quash it as quickly as possible.

  • Robert Waldmann on September 22, 2011 12:47 AM:

    "a discussion I launched last November". Yes indeed.

    We may be overlooking someone, but I share your impression that the discussion of Republican sabotage started right here.

    It required courage to mention such a possibility last November. I applaud you for your gutsy call. I fear that your fears are well founded.

  • Jane Kettler on September 22, 2011 2:51 AM:

    It is really refreshing to read so many thoughtful, well expressed comments. This site has a readership which is intelligent and able to express their thoughts using proper grammar and spelling. Most sites which I review are full of the worst, most frightful, hateful garbage that I feel depressed about the level of intelligence of our current culture. Thank you for saying what I have been thinking on all these matters.

  • beejeez on September 22, 2011 8:24 AM:

    Yes, there's an element of deliberate sabotage among Republicans, but I'm more alarmed that even centrist Americans and media increasingly buy into the radical right's framing of issues. It's one thing to pander to know-nothings, it's another for centrists to believe there are two sides to the issue of whether to let people die from lack of health care, whether evolution should be taught in science classes, whether a certain degree of regulation is necessary to avoid economic slavery, and whether we should try at least to slow down the redistribution of American wealth to those who are already the wealthiest.