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November 07, 2011 10:05 AM The growing acceptance of the ‘sabotage’ question

By Steve Benen

The New York Times editorial board had a piece today on the importance of unemployment benefits, and made an observation in passing that stood out for me.

“Tragically,” the editorial said, “the more entrenched the jobs shortage becomes, the more paralyzed Congress becomes, with Republicans committed to doing nothing in the hopes that the faltering economy will cost President Obama his job in 2012.”

The point was made in passing, but it’s nevertheless striking. As far as the editorial board of the nation’s most important newspaper is concerned, it’s simply accepted as fact that congressional Republicans want to hold back the economy, on purpose, to undermine the Obama presidency.

Does the American public accept this as easily? Greg Sargent flagged the results of a new Washington Post/ABC News poll, that asked a related question.

“Which of the following statements comes closest to your point of view? Statement A: (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 and programs.) Or Statement B: (President Obama has not provided leadership on the economy, and he is just blaming the Republicans in Congress as an excuse for not doing his job.)”

Obama making a good effort: 50%

Obama has not provided leadership: 44%

This comes less than a week after a poll in Florida found that 49% of voters statewide believe congressional Republicans “are intentionally hindering efforts to boost the economy so that President Barack Obama will not be reelected.” The WaPo/ABC poll is, as best as I can tell, the first national poll to consider the same issue.

To be sure, the wording of this new poll isn’t ideal, and is far less direct than the poll conducted in Florida. But the takeaway is still pretty clear: half the country is inclined to believe GOP officials are killing efforts to boost the economy for purely political reasons.

Though in theory, it should, this won’t necessarily give President Obama a boost. The degree of national cynicism is so intense, many Americans may simply assume Republicans are sabotaging the national economy, but take their frustrations out on the president anyway. As Greg noted, “The number who see Obama as a strong leader is now upside down (48-51), suggesting yet again that even if Americans understand that Republicans are deliberately blocking Obama’s policies, they may conclude that his failure to get around them just shows he’s weak or ineffectual.”

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.

It’s easy to imagine the sabotage question undermining Republican support in 2012, but it’s clearly not automatic. The more Democrats push the question into the public bloodstream, and get voters thinking about the impact of 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.

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  • jcricket on November 07, 2011 10:12 AM:

    Whether people's lives are destroyed by lack of prospects to find a way to earn a living does not matter to the republicans. As long as Obama is not reelected, no amount of ruined lives in the American community are too many.

  • T2 on November 07, 2011 10:18 AM:

    the point is that whether or not the GOP is stonewalling Obama's efforts on purpose, the fact remains that they oppose anything he sends forward. The result being the stagnation in the economy/jobs situation. Even if the GOP is stonewalling out of pure ideological opposition, the result is the same as if it was purposeful.

  • hank on November 07, 2011 10:19 AM:

    So why isn't there coverage of the "Super Committee" that's set up so they can do nothing and trigger massive government cuts as of Thanksgiving? For the Democrats to agree with this was like deciding to play 'chicken' against someone who's suicidal. They want the massive cuts. So, here it comes.

  • SadOldVet on November 07, 2011 10:25 AM:

    An alternative progressive perspective...

    An alternate explanation of why the ameriKKKan sheeple believe that the repukes are sabotaging the economy and that The Obomination has not provided leadership is the established history of Obama capitulating to the repukes prior to and during negotiations with them!

    Do I believe that Obama has been a weak and ineffective negotiator with the repukes? Yes

    Do I believe that it is regretable that we cannot have a progressive candidate on the democratic side of the presidential election ballot next year? Yes

    Do I believe that it is imperative that we progressives swallow our pride and our priorities during the next year to assure that the lesser of two evils and not the repuke is elected president next fall? ABSOLUTELY YES

  • bignose on November 07, 2011 10:28 AM:

    Dionne mantioned this on the friday NPR segment he does with Brooks - He jabbed Brooks pretty hard with this, and Brooks did not refute it.

  • Brenna on November 07, 2011 10:30 AM:

    I'm in complete agreement with SadOldVet. My opinion of Obama went way down during the debt ceiling negotiations. It was pitiful.

    Obama capitulated so as to appear reasonable to moderates and it got him nowhere. Now that's he carrying a big stick and whacking the republicans, the polls are turning ever so slightly.

  • c u n d gulag on November 07, 2011 10:35 AM:

    If China sent in saboteurs to wreck our economy, the Republicans would be the first ones screaming for the death penalty, and for the executions to be televised.

    How is this different than that?

    THEY are the treasonous traitors they accused us of being for not cheering their phonied up war, and empty suit of a President.

    I'm against the death penalty and torture, otherwise,
    I'd like to see nothing better than to see some of these evil assholes to be repeatedly and enlessly tortured for the rest of their miserable lives, because I'm feeling tortured because I can't find a job.

    We need to start accusing them to be treason, and of being traitors!
    NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Danp on November 07, 2011 10:37 AM:

    Brenna - The Republicans gained absolutely nothing in the debt ceiling "compromise". Since they control the House, they can refuse funding now for anything they want, and since there is a new election for all House members in 2012, nothing is binding beyond that. Only about 20 billion of the compromise was for things between now and the next elections. The whole compromise was a face-saving sham.

  • c u n d gulag on November 07, 2011 10:37 AM:

    In English, that last sentence should read:

    "We need to start accusing them of treason, and of being traitors!"

  • stormskies on November 07, 2011 10:38 AM:

    Let's face it. Only in a country as stupid as ours could this deliberate sabotaging strategy of the Repiglicans of Obama, and the Democrats, actually even a chance of working at all: i.e blaming Obama for an economic reality that they Repiglicans have themselves created. And for those who are so stupid to do so their solution is what? To vote for those very same Repiglicans whose policies are in fact the policies that created the destruction of our economy in the first place ? That's the solution ? Only in a country as stupendously stupid as ours could that happen. And it did happen in the 2010 elections already. It is fucking mind boggling. Yet, in a country in which two out of ten of our citizens 'believe' that the Sun revolves around the Earth I guess we just can't expect much more.

    And, also, what SAdOldVet said is exactly fucking right in my view .........

  • walt on November 07, 2011 10:39 AM:

    I agree with SadOldVet but I'm also perplexed about the long game here. What happens if Obama is re-elected and we're simply locked in the same stalemate? Don't get me wrong - this stalemate is probably preferable to complete Republican control. But at some point, the public is going to blame the president even if it is obvious the Republican are intentionally sabotaging the economy.

    If we're going to try to educate the public, we'll need more aggressive arguments. This "more than in sorrow than in anger" tone doesn't begin to reflect the problems we have as a nation. Only liberals apparently are concerned here, so our pushback has to be systematic. Without a Congress that represents average people rather than the Koch brothers, we're doomed.

    Yes: doomed.

  • berttheclock on November 07, 2011 10:42 AM:

    The average American looks only at the Win and Loss columns. The Cloture Column is never understood by them, so, they pay it no attention. Here in Oregon, the Americans for Properity has joined with the Tea Party to begin to take control of areas outside of Portland. They are part and parcel of those who dismiss the word cloture as being part of any legitimate argument. They still believe the Democrats could have passed anything they wanted when they controlled both houses. Yes, these are the same folk who still scream about Obama ramming bills down their collective throats, but, it speaks volumes as to their lack of reasoning.

  • Dredd on November 07, 2011 10:50 AM:

    In our plutonomy only the rich 1% can impact job growth in the manner being discussed.

    Neither the Republicans nor the President can control the vast wealth of the 1%.

    They are unfortunately fighting the previous war with weapons and tools only appropriate for a democratic economy; weapons and tools that do not have a substantial impact upon a plutonomy.

  • SYSPROG on November 07, 2011 10:55 AM:

    WOW...I don't agree with those of you that think Obama has been 'weak'. Unfortunately, MOST people in this country think the President is the same as a CEO. They listen to your arguments and THEN are able to put into place exactly what they want. NOT TRUE! We have a system of 'checks and balances' specifically put in place to counter this. Obama did JUST WHAT YOU WANTED HIM TO DO when you elected him. COMPROMISE. But when you saw what compromise looked like, you didn't LIKE it. So now he's 'weak'. He put forth proposals that the Republicans 'used' to support and some of them were GOOD. But the GOP has been bought by the rich that think they can get MORE so they have stonewalled on every issue. If the 'independents' vote for Romney thinking he can do anything else I have swampland to sell. He will put thru the EXACT SAME POLICIES and they will pass. My big question is WHERE ARE THE ELECTED DEMOCRATS in all this? Why don't THEY come out and support the President? Why don't THEY come out and vote for progressive policies? WHO'S WEAK???

  • Josef K on November 07, 2011 10:56 AM:

    The more Democrats push the question into the public bloodstream, and get voters thinking about the impact of GOP tactics, the better it will be for Demsí electoral efforts.

    Alternately, it might just just push the Republican caucus (with or without its leadership's direction) to go ahead and crash the economy completely in the mistaken notion it'll only put paid to the administration.

    Louis XVI's court probably thought the combined national bankruptcy and food crisis wouldn't impact on them, either.

    I agree however that the public should be informed as aggressively as possible to this, if only so they can make Congress aware of the stakes its playing with.

  • citizen_pain on November 07, 2011 11:25 AM:

    This all makes sense when you look at it through a culture war prism.

    The right wing is waging an all out war, and any group that does not march in lockstep with their rigid and narrow ideology is the enemy.

    People who suffer due to this war are simply collateral damage, it's that simple. The ends justify the means to the right. It's necessary to purge the enemy in any way possible in order to achieve ideological purity.

    These people are un-American, anti-democratic, and will destroy this country unless they are stopped.

  • Kiweagle on November 07, 2011 11:28 AM:

    @c u n d gulag on November 07, 2011 10:35 AM:
    Treason is the first word that comes to mind whenever the topic of sabotage by the GOP comes up and I can't for the life of me understand how it could be seen as anything less given the oath to protect the constitution and country sworn by each member of congress before they can begin voting.

    For God's sake, we have Republicans who are named as sponsors for bills they will then vote against because Obama has announced his support for the initiative (one of the great talking points he used during the healthcare debate). We have Republicans calling individual mandates unconstitutional even though they were the ones suggesting it and, in the case of Mitt Romney, making it law!

    As for Obama, there is absolutely no denying that he has been one of the worst negotiators I've ever seen - who the hell makes pre-concessions before even starting to haggle? What angers me the most, however, is how utterly horrendous the Democrats are at informing the voters about what the GOP did and continue to do to destroy the economy. Just look at the campaign commercials they used prior to the 2010 elections. I've never witnessed a more obtuse and utter waste of campaign donations in my life. Hell, to this day I'd wager good money that at least 75% of the population doesn't have a clue about what the Affordable Care Act achieved.

  • rip on November 07, 2011 11:36 AM:

    The republicans are worrying because they've lost control of the narrative. From 2010 through the summer of this year, they framed the debate: Obama is a socialist who wants to force you into government health care, Obama wants to nationalize the banks, car industry, etc., The stimulus failed, Business is paralyzed due to uncertainty over taxes and regulation, Collective bargaining is bankrupting the states, The ballooning deficit is bankrupting the country.

    It didn't matter if a majority of Americans bought into these arguments, Obama and the Democrats were constantly on the defensive, often having to defend against the absurd (i.e. death panels).

    But during this time a counter narrative was building - that Republicans want the economy weak in order to win in 2012, that they protect the wealthy at the expense of the middle, that they want to destroy the social safety net, and hand over what's left to a predatory private sector, that their economic philosophy leads to wealth concentration and not job creation, that the commonwealth must be sacrificed to needs of corporations.

    OWS, whatever it morphs into, is the tipping point. The focus is increasingly on income inequality, the failure of laissez-faire capitalism to police itself, and what will the government do to create jobs and ease economic pain. This is not what Republicans want to be talking about going into the election.

  • Oregoncharles on November 07, 2011 11:50 AM:

    Who says A & B are contradictory? They're both true, and I would refuse to answer a question that poses such a false alternative.

    Except, of course, that I don't really believe in Obama's "good faith." Look at his actions and compare with his words; do you see "good faith?"

    Of course, the point of this article is excellent campaign fodder for the Dems. But there's another implication: people are more and more disgusted with BOTH major parties. In other words, they're waking up. That's the good news buried in this trainwreck.

  • PTate in MN on November 07, 2011 11:52 AM:

    rip: "OWS, whatever it morphs into, is the tipping point"

    I agree that the counter-narrative is gaining strength, and that OWS is the tipping point. If nothing else, it gives Obama a left-wing to provide him cover. For the first time in a long time, I am hopeful that the Republican narrative ("the free market is always right, the government is always bad") is being exposed for the con game that it is.

    All we need is 51% of voters in all districts across the country to figure out that they are being suckered.

    ha, captcha is prophetic...buried sportsEn! I, too, hope the conservative Sportsmen are buried!!!

  • Texas Aggie on November 07, 2011 12:05 PM:

    "Votersí understanding of the political process is severely limited,"

    I suspect a large number, especially on the right wing, buy into the regressive propaganda that Obama has created a team of Seals or Green Berets or whatever who are authorized to assassinate anyone he designates. Since the people opposing him have not been assassinated, he must be a weak president.

    While this may be absolutely true for a relatively small proportion of the citizenry, I suspect that milder versions exist in the minds of a lot of people, that Obama can bring some sort of threat against anyone he who doesn't go along with him. It's the way an authoritarian personality thinks.

  • Texas Aggie on November 07, 2011 12:08 PM:

    And whenever some rightwinger gets up in holy umbrage about the charge that they are deliberately making the situation worse for their own political advantage, ask them if they have a better hypothesis to explain republican behavior. Why are republicans now so opposed to Obama's suggestions that they supported before he made them?

  • Tom Glover (BigSkyDem) on November 07, 2011 12:36 PM:

    I wish the Republicans in Congress would just get off the picket lines and go back and negotiate.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on November 07, 2011 12:40 PM:

    "Voters’ understanding of the political process is severely limited, and many Americans likely fail to appreciate the role Congress must play in policymaking."

    There's an easy way to solve that: every Democrat, every time they speak about this, remind the audience how the Republicans are obstructing. It's not that difficult.

  • MNRD on November 07, 2011 3:25 PM:

    The main reason why the NY Times Editorial Board and other observers are now assuming that the Republicans are deliberately trying to crush the recovery in order to defeat President Obama is because of the debt ceiling scandal. The Republicans were warned that the maneuver could cause extensive damage to the economy. They claimed that it wouldn't cause the damage, and went ahead with the maneuver. It did, indeed, cause the damage, which included a historical downgrading of the US credit rating. And then, instead of showing remorse over the damage they'd caused, they CELEBRATED! That celebration proved that the Republicans caused the damage deliberately. All of the subsequent Congressional Republican obstruction of the President's attempts to create jobs reinforces that conclusion.

    The Republicans are creating a profound legitimacy problem for themselves that could haunt them for decades. They have engaged in the ultimate illegitimate means of consolidating and wielding power: deliberately prolonging the economic suffering of the American people in order to attain their petty political objectives. It's inevitable that any power obtained by such means will be widely viewed as illegitimate.

  • Justin on November 07, 2011 5:20 PM:

    Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader, said very clearly and unequivocally that the GOPs primary goal is defeating Obama in 2012. Not winning the wars we are fighting, not fixing the economy, not even helping to govern well, just defeating Obama. The Tea Party Nation has called on business owners to stop hiring people at all unless Congress and Obama cave to the conservative agenda. I think it is pretty plain and clear that sabotage is exactly what they have in mind.

  • Kiweagle on November 07, 2011 5:25 PM:

    @MNRD on November 07, 2011 3:25 PM:
    Though your reasoning and logic are sound, you give the NYT waaay too much credit as their record on correctly identifying GOP tactics is utterly atrocious (see ANYTHING regarding the Iraq War).

    And surely you're not so naive to believe that there will be consequences after the destruction the GOP wrought upon the economy and country as a whole and proceeded to create the largest majority in congress for over 80 years. Remember how they campaigned on jobs, transparency, responsible governance?

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