Political Animal


November 08, 2011 2:00 PM Putting the ‘sabotage’ question to the public

By Steve Benen

We’ve been exploring for nearly a year the “sabotage” question: are Republicans trying to hurt the nation’s economy on purpose, simply to undermine the Obama presidency?

Over the last few months, the charge has become more common and more mainstream, with the question being raised by leading officials in President Obama’s re-election team, Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill, and a growing number of pundits and political observers.

Pollsters, however, have shied away from the question — until very recently. Today, a new survey from Public Policy Polling, commissioned by Daily Kos and SEIU, put the question to respondents nationwide.

“Q: Do you think the Republicans are intentionally stalling efforts to jumpstart the economy to insure that Barack Obama is not reelected or not?”

Yes: 50%
No: 41%
Unsure: 10%

This comes on the heels on a very similar poll conducted solely in Florida, which produced nearly identical responses. A Washington Post/ABC News poll released yesterday also found 50% of Americans nationwide agree with the statement that President Obama is “making a good faith effort to deal with the country’s economic problems, but the Republicans in Congress are playing politics by blocking his proposals.”

The polls come at the same time as a New York Times editorial that stated, simply as an obvious fact, that congressional Republicans are “committed to doing nothing” to improve the economy “in the hopes that the faltering economy will cost President Obama his job in 2012.”

Taken together, this is a rather striking shift.. We’re talking about the American mainstream accepting the idea that a major political party, for the first time since the Civil War, actively trying to undermine the strength of the United States in a time of economic crisis. At a fundamental level, that is, or at least should be, an incredible scandal. As Brian Beutler put it, “[I]f the notion that elected Republicans are blocking economic recovery for political gain becomes a mainstream proposition, they’ve got big trouble.”

A lot will depend on how Americans come to think of this. At this point, as we discussed yesterday, beliefs about “sabotage” do not necessarily translate into a political boost for the White House. The degree of national cynicism is so intense, many Americans may assume Republicans are sabotaging the national economy, but take their frustrations out on President Obama anyway.

Voters’ understanding of the political process is severely limited, and many Americans likely fail to appreciate the role Congress must play in policymaking. There are no doubt plenty of voters thinking, “Sure, Republicans are sabotaging the economy, but why can’t Obama just go around them?” unaware of the fact that, on a grand scale, this isn’t an option.

That said, it’s also easy to imagine the sabotage question undermining Republican support in 2012, even if it’s not automatic. Are Americans prepared to reward a party that cares more about power and politics than the nation’s well being? The more Democrats push the question into the public bloodstream, and get voters thinking about the impact of unprecedented GOP tactics, the better it will be for Dems’ electoral efforts.

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
  • stormskies on November 08, 2011 2:13 PM:

    Great, but 41% still can see or understand what is so blatantly obvious .... think about how stupid you have to be not to see or understand this ...

  • Stephen Stralka on November 08, 2011 2:17 PM:

    "By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community."

    -- James Madison, Federalist #10

  • john sherman on November 08, 2011 2:19 PM:

    Is there such a charge as economic treason? Still, the Republicans would have a shot at the insanity defense.

  • mmm on November 08, 2011 2:21 PM:

    ...."reward a party that cares more about power and politics than the nations's well-being?" Well, evidently, from the looks of that pipeline controversy that is erupting in all of those RED states down through the middle of the country. Congratulations, Repub voters, that's what you get.

  • SW on November 08, 2011 2:23 PM:

    It is not cause to reward Republicans by voting for them. But it is cause for dropping support of the administration because they failed to figure out how to deal with this fact and stuck with a misguided policy of sucking up to the sabatures long after it was apparent that it was counter productive to do so. This indicates poor judgment and negotiating skills. Still, looks like lesson learned. Better late than never. Etc.

  • T2 on November 08, 2011 2:32 PM:

    I'm with Stormskies....but understand that of the 41% , at least 23% favor opposing ANYTHING Obama does at all, even breathing. But somehow the Media will keep this issue from being "big trouble". I'm glad, though, that even Obama himself is starting to mention the "sabotage".

  • Anonymous on November 08, 2011 2:34 PM:

    Wait, what are "Dem's efforts"?? Oh, electoral efforts, well of course! Like Ben Nelson, right?

  • kp on November 08, 2011 2:35 PM:

    I don't think this will actually have political consequences. I think the perception will be that this is just normal politics. For example, the unprecedented use of the filibuster is seen as 'business as usual' when, in fact, it is anything but and severely detrimental to the functioning of Congress and the Executive branch.

  • linus bern on November 08, 2011 2:40 PM:

    What needs to occur is that the question should be put directly to top Republicans. At the moment they are completely ignoring the accusation, knowing that to address it is to give it life, so how would they dance if an enterprising report asked them?

  • Bartender on November 08, 2011 2:42 PM:

    Uh...hello?...my esteemed Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, the United States Senate Minority Leader, said a year or so ago that his goal was to insure that Obama would be a one-term president. Why anyone in the media would be shocked by such blatant political sabotage is simply not seeing the forest thru the trees.

  • Ranger Jay on November 08, 2011 2:45 PM:

    Don't discount the number of Republicans who probably think that "all out war at any cost" is a GOOD thing. There are more than a few out there who hate Obama so much that they consider economic sabotage a legitimate tactic.

    You know, the old "end justifies the means" kind of mentality...

  • jim filyaw on November 08, 2011 3:00 PM:

    duh, ya think?

    the light bulbs are starting to come on? what bugs the hell out of me is how the electorate tends to give the repubs a pass when the shoe is on the other foot. for instance, when the few democrats who came equipped with a spine dared to question the necessity and wisdom of the iraq war, you would have thought they were the direct descendents of benedict arnold. but, the repubs have openly flaunted their intent to take down obama even if the country goes with him, and its taken this long?

  • gone_west on November 08, 2011 3:01 PM:

    You presume the public will be indignant about the republican's sabotaging of the economy. I am not so sure they'd be offended by the republicans behavior on economic matters any more than they are bothered by Cain being a serial sexual harrasser.

    A good follow up question is how many people think it's okay that the republicans are sabotaging the economic recovery so Obama's re-election chances are hurt.

  • Dex on November 08, 2011 3:04 PM:

    the Conressional suFFer committee: McConnell, Boehner, and Cantor.

  • CK MacLeod on November 08, 2011 3:04 PM:

    What's excellent about this question politically is that it appeals to "X-Files" conspiracism, paranoia, and cynicism: Just asking the question provides the answer to very large numbers of Americans. It helps that they see Obama a lot, voted for him in large numbers, and may feel they've taken a measure of his character, while in this country mostly only political junkies even know who the Republican congressional leadership is. Everyone already assumes that politicians in general are "in it" for corrupt reasons... The task for progressives or any serious populist/reform movement is to establish a reputation for being the cure to such corruption.

  • JW on November 08, 2011 3:05 PM:

    Charles Pierce in Esquire magazine:

    "..The phenomenon of "indispensable enemies" which the late Walter Karp saw coming decades ago, and warned us against has required down through the years that the Democratic party be complicit in the Republican party's encroaching dementia. In a real democratic republic even one in which the people insist, through their own lassitude, on having only two parties the proper function of a political party confronted with a demented opposition is to make that dementia so obvious to the public at large that it becomes a liability for the other party. If that causes the other party to cease to exist, well, that's the free market of ideas. One hopes a more sensible one will rise in its place.
    Instead, the Democratic party has failed utterly in its duty to the country to force the Republicans to regain their sanity or die as a political entity. It has failed utterly even to try. What we see now in the Republican primary field is a result of that failure. It's bad enough that the Republicans will pay no price for embarrassing themselves this way. There's no reason why the entire country should".

  • Creature_NYC on November 08, 2011 3:10 PM:

    Unfortunately, non-ideological voters may just throw their hands up and vote for a Republican president just to make the obstruction stop. This, not so much to punish the president but out of futility.

    What's needed is a Dem controlled House and sixty-plus Dem Senators for the obstruction to stop, but it's far easier, for the voter who really doesn't care what policy gets through, to get rid of one guy then turn over that many seats.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on November 08, 2011 3:14 PM:

    What is so astonishing is the Republicans' audacity about the whole thing. They just assume they can get away with it. And they largely are. Simply unbelievable.

  • bdop4 on November 08, 2011 3:16 PM:

    Every time I read about GOP sabotage, I can't help but notice that Dems enabled it by not eliminating the ridiculous filibuster rules in the Senate.

    Should Dems actually prevail next year, will they stop playing "prevent defense," remove the rules and start legislating with a simple majority?

  • Holly W on November 08, 2011 3:19 PM:

    The White House needs to be careful. Good that they're using what executive authority they can but their messaging of it "We Can't Wait [for Congress to Act]" reinforces the dangerous perception Republicans want to push i.e. that they don't have the power to stop Obama so whatever you see is his fault.

    Just as the White House tiptoed toward the message "GOP is engaging in sabotage" they're eventually going to have to land at the logical partner message: The best step to help the country is voting the Republicans out of congress.

  • JW on November 08, 2011 3:21 PM:

    In that Esquire column, Pierce also envisions David Gregory of Meet The Press interviewing Caligula's horse/senator about the state of the nation, and then turning to Tom Brokaw for additional commentary. It's an hilariously pointed indictment about what passes as journalism in America nowadays.

  • Johnj B. on November 08, 2011 4:00 PM:

    I'm beginning not to care that Republicans are hypocrites. It's not like Democrats are any better. After reading yesterday's NYT op-ed piece by Clive Stafford Smith, some pollster should be asking, "Do you think Obama is launching all those drone missiles to kill 16-year old boys in an effort to jump start his reelection campaign or not?"

  • tubino on November 08, 2011 4:53 PM:

    GOP created massive deficits by enacting their platform, and instead of paying a price for that, is now using the deficits as an excuse to enact their platform, which will increase inequality and increase deficits.

    So why would anyone think they would pay a price for more economic sabotage?

  • montag on November 08, 2011 6:43 PM:

    The Republican/Teabaggers have achieved something seldom seen in politics anywhere, 100% lock step party unity.In recent history we have seen this twice that I am aware of, early 1930's Germany before Hitler was made Chancellor and the Provisional Government in Russia before the minority Bolsheviks staged the October Revolution. In both instances the minority party was 100% opposed to a functioning government until they seized power.