Political Animal


October 11, 2011 2:40 PM Jim Messina broaches a provocative line

By Steve Benen

There’s been at least some discussion this year about the “sabotage” question — whether Republicans are deliberately hurting the country, holding back the economy on purpose, for the express purpose of undermining the Obama presidency. It is, to be sure, a provocative point, and many Democrats have steered clear of it.

But in recent months, the argument has gained mainstream traction, in part because GOP tactics demanded it. This led to a striking email, sent to the Obama for America list this afternoon, from Jim Messina, the campaign manager for Obama/Biden 2012. The message reads, in part:

“The U.S. Senate is supposed to vote on the American Jobs Act as early as tonight.

“It’s a bill that will put people to work immediately, and it contains proposals that members of both parties have said in the past that they’d support.

“But Senate Republicans want to block it. Not because they have a plan that creates jobs right now — not one Republican, in Congress or in the presidential race, does. They only have a political plan.

Their strategy is to suffocate the economy for the sake of what they think will be a political victory. They think that the more folks see Washington taking no action to create jobs, the better their chances in the next election. So they’re doing everything in their power to make sure nothing gets done.” [emphasis added]

The message goes on from there to talk about the merits of the White House jobs bill, urging recipients to call Capitol Hill. Regardless, this is, as near as I can tell, the first time anyone associated with the president has broached the sabotage question at all.

And that strikes me as rather remarkable.

At least Messina is in good company. Michael Cohen, a senior fellow at American Security Project, apparently following up on a discussion I launched last November, recently said, “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” on purpose. 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., Dan Gross,David Frum, and Andrew Sullivan have all 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 GOP leadership’s letter to Bernanke pleading with him to let the economy suffer, the repeated threats of government shutdowns, tonight’s death of the American Jobs Act — it appears all kinds of serious people are at least entertaining the possibility.

As a result, it at least seems like a question worthy of some debate. Given the circumstances, there’s ample reason for credible observers to at least ponder the possibility and ask Republican leaders for an explanation for their behavior.

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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  • J on October 11, 2011 2:45 PM:

    I think you forgot to close your bold bracket.

  • jjm on October 11, 2011 2:47 PM:

    The GOP has given Obama and his team more than enough fodder. Time to use it!

    I see Obama's poll numbers are CLIMBING.

  • Jim H from Indiana on October 11, 2011 2:57 PM:

    Other than Keith Olbermann or Rachel Maddox, name one "credible observer" in the news media with the guts or intelligence to ask Republican leaders for an explanation for their behavior! (crickets) And then follow it up with additional questions once they stall or lie their ass off. (crickets)

    Yeah, that's what I thought.

  • wvng on October 11, 2011 2:58 PM:

    Yeah, true, but the Blue Dogs are polluting the message. And the media loves putting on Blue Dogs.

  • Danp on October 11, 2011 2:59 PM:

    In an age where so many questions in political journalism begin, "Some people think," you would think someone might ask a Republican to respond. It's a pretty serious charge, and I, for one, would like to hear someone make a reasoned argument beyond "government is the problem."

  • Live Free or Die on October 11, 2011 3:00 PM:

    Well Obama's plan got the thumbs up from the CBO and other economists. The GOP does not even have a scorable plan. Also, too add to the list of saboteurs, Ben Nelson and Manchin. If I was Obama, I would campaign in WV and talk about how much Manchin and he are alike, and how much he loves Manchin-just to fuck with his head. Byrd and Rockefeller didnt act like such putzes

  • T2 on October 11, 2011 3:01 PM:

    "anyone associated with the president" uh, actually the President himself "broached" the subject in a recent speech, or maybe his presser...using McConnell's "all we want is to beat Obama" meme.

  • golack on October 11, 2011 3:04 PM:

    Of course you're correct, but saying that is un-American.

  • stormskies on October 11, 2011 3:07 PM:

    It's not a matter of fucking debate. It's a matter of the obvious and it should be 'yelled from the rooftops' by all Democrats who are not yet corrupt. It should be spelled out in the DNC commercials over and over. They should frame the face of every Repiglican, and Democrat like pig shit Nelso, with fugitive wanted posters in these commercials for purposefully destroying our country.

    And for the Democrats who still have balls they should point out how the corporate media is aiding and betting in this seditious activity. And name names like David "I am not a used corporate condom' Gregory et-al.

    Obama himself needs to do exactly the same thing, over and over, so that the typically dense and stupid American 'gets' it'. Obama should, over and over, tell Americans not only what is actually happening, but to tell Americans to elect those who if fact have the interests of the common good in their hearts and souls.

  • June on October 11, 2011 3:07 PM:

    I never understood Kevin Drum's, 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.

    Is he kidding? Republicans have long been accusing Democrats of that and worse. Then again, there are no "serious" Repubicans in a position of real influence. Just an ongoing ragtag collection of the worst our political system has to offer.

  • t case on October 11, 2011 3:08 PM:

    The fact that there's been no Republican pushback means it's true. They don't want people talking about it.

  • SYSPROG on October 11, 2011 3:10 PM:

    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.

    Who ARE these 'serious' people? Pundits? Bloggers? EVERY SERIOUS JOURNALIST should be raising this question and the NEXT one should be 'what do YOU propose to do about it?

    If you didn't believe it (oh serious persons) then why the hell did McConnell try to weasel around TIMID questions by saying 'Obama is the one CAUSING GOP obstructionism. It's really not US!'

  • zandru on October 11, 2011 3:18 PM:

    I'm with stormskies - there's no need to "debate" the proposition. Take it for granted - and slip it into every political or economic discussion. Well, since the Republicans have said they're trying to sabotage the economy, so they'll win the next election ...

    Come on! Let's get out there and "catapult the propaganda"! It has the added advantage of being true.

  • CL38 on October 11, 2011 3:24 PM:

    �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 the behavior of the right, it seems to me no serious person in a position of real influence --who wants to be taken seriously-- can avoid naming and discussing this quite openly. America's future and the future of the American people depend on those in positions of influence and power to stand up and speak the truth.

    The right has stated on many occasions that their primary goal is to make sure that Obama's not re-elected. Every action on their part for 3 years has been geared to preventing progress forward. They've purposely obstructed legislation to solve many serious crises they created under Bush.

    �No serious person in a position of real influence" can avoid bringing the right to task for cynically trying to tank the economy to make sure that the first black elected won't be re-elected.

    �To pretend not to see this or name it is irresponsible, gutless and stupid. The right's behavior has been explicit. The American people see this and want the Democrats to finally find the courage and voice to call it like it is, after the past 13 years!!@@!!!!

  • DenverRight on October 11, 2011 3:25 PM:

    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. ... it appears all kinds of serious people are at least entertaining the possibility.

    O Come Now! If half a dozen leftists are willing to "entertain" such possibilities, it must be true, right?

    Honestly, this type of snuff journalism isn't even up to Benen's standards. I guess character assassination is easier than actually solving the economic problems some of these politicians were elected to address.

    If this is the kind of "tightly constructed argument" that now passes for journalism at the Wash Monthly, Charles Peters must be glad he left!

  • Peter C on October 11, 2011 3:25 PM:

    Kevin Drum says:
    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.

    Yet, for 8 years, I, as a liberal, was pre-emptively accused of TREASON for being against torture, and the war, and illegal wiretapping. For the past 3 years, I, as a liberal, have been pre-emtively accused of being a SOCIALIST for wanting single-payer healthcare (like EVERY OTHER CIVILIZED NATION ON EARTH). To me 'cynically trying to tank the economy' is no more hyperbolic than 'treason' or the accusation of hating America because I hate for-profit healthcare, yet they may employ hyperbole and we may not. We must not allow this tactical asymmetry. When we do so, we unilaterally disarm, and guess what, we lose, over and over again.

    Rush Limbaugh is the biggest beneficiary of government in the world for it protects him from being punched in the mouth by untold millions of people. If knocking his teeth out were not a crime, all he could eat at this point would be pablum.

  • Memekiller on October 11, 2011 3:30 PM:

    It looks like Obama is still handling this deftly. My only worry is how he deals with Blue Dogs - by watering down his message to get them on board? Or running against them, too?

    It is GOP obstructionism. That point is made more difficult by Dems unforced error, but hell, Congress is dysfunctional, and a good many Dems are to blame for that, as well. Obama ought to stay focused on winning re-election by siding with America, and hopefully enough Dems come along. Dems sure could do themselves a favor by getting 51, or 50, meaning the VP could give the country a jobs bill.

    Since nothing will pass, all that matters this campaign is defining who is for the 99 percent, and who is for the 1 percent - a good many of whom are also begging to have their taxes raised for the good of the economy.

    As with this bill, those for the one percent will be a united Republican Party and few Liebermans. They've always been the problem, and Obama's campaign is making that starkly clear.

  • memekiller on October 11, 2011 3:35 PM:

    Every day Obama runs an uncompromising campaign for jobs it becomes clearer to the average person who wants to destroy the economy, and who wants to do something now, and what's keeping it from passing.

    They are learning who wants the jobs bill now, and who needs control of Congress if they are made to wait until the election to get it.

  • Josef K on October 11, 2011 3:50 PM:

    From DenverRight at 3:25pm:

    O Come Now! If half a dozen leftists are willing to "entertain" such possibilities, it must be true, right?

    Andrew Sullivan is a leftist? Since when?

    I guess character assassination is easier than actually solving the economic problems some of these politicians were elected to address.

    Exactly whose character is being "assassinated"? And let's be blunt: the Republicans have not introduced one piece of serious legislation to address job creation in the last three years.

    Note I said "serious" legislation, not cheap political stunts.

    If this is the kind of "tightly constructed argument" that now passes for journalism at the Wash Monthly, Charles Peters must be glad he left!

    Who? Was he someone important?

    And if you have an alternate explanation for the lack of action on this issue by the Republican caucus, please offer it now. I certainly would like to hear one.

  • Equal Opportunity Cynic on October 11, 2011 4:11 PM:

    stormskies and zandru are correct. If it were the GOP doing the accusin', it wouldn't even need to be true. (Romney on defense cuts, etc. etc.) For crying out loud, surely Democrats can verbalize something almost everyone in America knows is true.

    The media will gasp! at first, but they always forget that public is far more cynical about the Beltway than the Beltway is about itself.

  • gelfling545 on October 11, 2011 4:17 PM:

    I don't see why people are having such trouble saying what the republicans have STATED is their aim without using weasel words like some, might, etc. They said it. Let them own it.

  • Mitch on October 11, 2011 4:41 PM:

    DenverRight: If the Republican concept of the trickle-down economy is correct, then why is the economy in such a crappy state?

    I mean, the richest of the rich have more money than ever. They have a far larger nest egg than in any time in recent American history. (both as adjusted-for-inflation dollars and as a percent of the economy), so what is stopping them from spending?

    Uncertainty about regulations or taxes?? I laugh at that, if only because my business (in Northern California) is HEAVILY regulated for mostly environmental reasons, and that doesn't affect our business planning at all. And of course being in CA, taxes are not low. We evolved to deal with that years ago. Indeed our best years were during the Clinton Administration.

    The only thing that is hurting my business is a lack of demand. Because, you know, the rich can only buy so much of any product, and the middle class no longer has the cash to spend on non-essentials like what we offer.

    The only way to spur demand is to have healthy employment in the nation, but I don't see the biggest earners doing anything to help with that. Even though they have more money than ever.

    The reason that I bring this up is because those two things: low taxes for the top earners and government regulations are the ONLY thing that the Republicans ever suggest to improve the economy.

    Even though there is no evidence - at all - that those tactics actually work.

    So, please, tell me why you think that the Republicans are taking either the economy or unemployment seriously, and what they are doing/planning to help?


  • CL38 on October 11, 2011 5:09 PM:

    DenverRight: "I guess character assassination is easier than actually solving the economic problems some of these politicians were elected to address."

    The right would certainly know character assassination when they see it, since it's been one of their main ploys for 40 years, for going after anyone speaking truth!!

    And, by the way, those GOP politicians who were elected to create jobs and address the economic problems created under Bush -- they've sat on their entitled butts for 3 years, collecting salaries and benefits they didn't earned.

    We intend to make sure they get what they have earned: to be fired in '12.

  • Rick B on October 11, 2011 5:46 PM:

    You are correct, but I'd remind you of "Tail-gunner" Joe McCarthy who made his career conducting character assassination in the early 1950's. That's six decades ago.

    After he drank himself to death the Republicans were sufficiently ashamed of him that they outsourced much of the practice to the John Birch Society (created in part by Daddy Warbucks Koch) and to anti-Communists in general.

  • CL38 on October 11, 2011 5:57 PM:

    Good point --the right has been in the business of character assassination for many decades.

  • Marcel Kincaid on October 11, 2011 6:24 PM:

    "DenverRight" offers the sort of unintelligent and dishonest commentary one expects (is guaranteed, actually) from such a moniker.

  • Marnie on October 11, 2011 7:30 PM:

    The only thing "remarkable" about that comment is that it took almost three years for him to believe what the Republicans have been saying and doing for three years.

  • Ginny in CO on October 11, 2011 7:47 PM:

    I would first like to say thanks for all the smack downs of DenverRight. We do have our share in the square state.

    I am definitely in the 'how long does it take for those folks to say "the Emperor has no clothes"?' chorus.

    They just need Stewart or Media Matters to come up with all the videos of GOP leaders, followers and cheerleaders making the comments and run it with nothing but a question at the end.

    I would ask "Will you vote to spend tax dollars to pay employees who don't do their jobs?"

    Maybe put the Congressional approval rating under it.

  • Doug on October 11, 2011 8:17 PM:

    "...and now the Wash(ington) Monthly has become an echo chamber." DenverRight @ 7:29 PM

    Never hurts to repeat the truth, ya know?
    I noticed that, in your 3:25 PM post, you failed to demand sources for Mr. Benen's remarks. Most likely that's because there ARE such attributable statements ON RECORD and of which you're fully aware.
    In order to assassinate a person's character, said person has to have a character first and, frankly, I can think of no self-respecting character that would, or could, abide the current crop of Republican malefactors.
    Lying, dishonest poltroons, the lot of them! They lie about "voter fraud". They lie about taxes being raised. They lie about Defense expenditures decreasing. They lie about climate change. They lie about "saving" Medicare. They lie about why they DIDN'T support the Stimulus or the ACA and why now they're NOT supporting the AJA. Basically, if their mouths are open, they're lying. If a Republican says it's Tuesday, I'd check a calendar, if I were you.
    When Republican politicians AREN'T lying about what they're doing themselves, they're lying about what Democrats are doing; or aren't, as is usually the case. McConnell is on record as stating the ONLY goal for the Republicans in the Senate is to ensure President Obama is a one term President, with NO qualifying remarks about how the interests of the US take precedence. Named House Republicans have been quoted as refusing to agree to ANYTHING that might help the country because "Why should we give Obama a 'win'?"
    Character assassination? No way! It's a succinct, in-depth, description of the group of sociopaths currently masquerading as a political party. Your childish attack on Mr. Benen, and those others who also deal in facts, far from letting you appear "principled" or "fair-minded", just shows you're in full support of those Republicans and their methods.
    And that you're afraid...

  • Joesteed on October 11, 2011 11:48 PM:

    Ummmmm...what if they really just believe this is a bad bill, which it is?

  • bob h on October 12, 2011 7:20 AM:

    We all know that if they win the Presidency, Republicans will rediscover the wisdom of Keynes and stimulative spending.

  • Adam Smith on October 12, 2011 7:53 AM:

    Let me get this straight:

    After two years of unchecked rule by the Democrat Party, which rammed bad policy after bad policy through Washington, you think trying to pin the economy on a largely powerless House GOP will work?

    Dude: pass the crack pipe.

  • DevinDenver on October 12, 2011 10:31 AM:

    Obama KNEW this had no possibility of passing even as he was touting (mind you, his Jobs Act had not even been sponsored as a bill until last week). Mr. President did this as a POLITICAL PLOY. If someone believes otherwise, please explain to me then, how if this Jobs Act creates so many jobs so easily why it was not proffered earlier. Further I would like President Obama or someone that truly believes that this Jobs Act creates jobs to spell out to me how.

  • Nexcerpt on October 12, 2011 10:54 AM:

    Why stop now? The Cheney/Norquist droids launched multiple wars, dumped a budget surplus, appointed fascist judges, took treasonous pledges -- why would they balk at keeping a few-dozen-million people out of work another year? Why let that stand in the way? They've almost achieved their goal of destroying our government; of course they'll persist!

    You can hear them whispering to one another: "Stay strong; stay the course! America is nearing collapse -- soon we'll have extinguished all hope of recovery!"

  • StewartIII on October 12, 2011 11:10 AM:

    Michelle Malkin: Obamas Teachable Truthiness Moment

  • DenverRight on October 12, 2011 12:52 PM:

    Doug @ 8.17: "...you failed to demand sources for Mr. Benen's remarks. Most likely that's because there ARE such attributable statements ON RECORD and of which you're fully aware."

    Correct, I did not demand citations of direct quotes - but I am NOT aware of any.

    If you would care to post any PRECISE QUOTES of any elected Republican officials that specifically want "the economy to actually fail" or "the nation to fail," I would consider such evidence. THAT was the accusation. But post direct quotes of those intentions, not actions or statements that others perceive in that light. The repeated accusation is that Republicans have PUBLICLY EXPRESSED a desire to "see the economy fail." I have, in the past, contacted Senator Schumer to request evidence of such public statements, and have not received any response.

    I am open to learning these vile "quotes".

  • paintitblu on October 12, 2011 3:26 PM:

    finally..........play this 'right', wethepeople'll be back where we belong, in the MAJORITY, than u, very much......

  • POed Lib on October 12, 2011 6:25 PM:

    It's enough to see what they are doing, which is economic treason. The Repukeliscum are stabbing us in the back, and they are traitors. Do they say it out loud? Of course not, but we don't need a statement to see what is patently obvious. As Dylan said, 'You don't need a weatherman to tell you which way the wind blows.' And with the Repukeliscum, they are acting on Position 1: Deny Obama a second term. That is, after all, what McConnell said, out loud.

  • jimmypete on October 12, 2011 7:34 PM:

    What debate ,it's been clear for almost two years, The Republicans have done everything big and small to keep the economy from recovering. This is a no brainer of course our no brain journalists will not take it up unless it gets started on Fox

  • Sparko on October 12, 2011 10:50 PM:

    DenverR: I am thinking that sock must make it hard to breathe. I guess we could post any number of Cantor, Ryan, or other speeches, which are based on demonstrably false premises (which they know are bullshit when they utter them). Ryan had that perfect budgetary trifecta of cutting economic growth drastically, and lowering taxes on the wealthy, and "lowering" the deficit by raising it! And ending health care for the poor and elderly!! yay! Yay GOP!!