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November 29, 2010

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There is no equivalence between Democrats' dissent regarding Iraq circa 2003 and Republicans' actions vis-a-vis the economy in 2009-10.

Democrats had no power to "sabotage" President Bush's efforts in Iraq. Sure, they could and did criticize it; but even if all congressional Democrats had voted against the AUMF, it still would have passed. And after that, all the decision-making was left to Bush's DoD, and it was left to succeed or fail on its own. On the other hand, Republicans absolutely have the ability (I'm saying nothing about intent here) to intentionally harm the economy, even without congressional majorities, by filibustering any stimulative or corrective measures proposed by congressional Dems.

That is to say, Democrats may have had an electoral incentive to sabotage Iraq in 2003; but Republicans have an incentive and the ability to sabotage the economy in 2010. So it is certainly logically consistent for Benen and others to suggest that Republicans may be sabotaging the economy, while dismissing the idea that Dems tried to sabotage Iraq.

And when political scientists like you clutch your pearls and say that it is out-of-bounds to suggest that the GOP is hoping for the economy to stay weak until 2012, what you are doing is ensuring that such efforts at sabotage, if they do in fact exist (which you admit is impossible to prove one way or the other), will be successful, because no one will call them on it.

P.S.:

You don't need to be a swami-like mind-reader to ascertain the true motives of the GOP. You need only look back at the last time they controlled Congress and the presidency during a recession. What happened? Massive tax cuts and massive spending increases; in other words, economic stimulus. Now, they say economic stimulus equals communism and will destroy the fabric of the nation.

What has changed in the last eight years, other than the party who stands to benefit from an improved economy? And yet, according to you, we're supposed to take them at their word that this is just principled opposition to government interference.

What I'm saying here is, you can't just look at Republicans crying "sabotage" in 2003 and Democrats crying "sabotage" in 2010 and just assume that these accusations are equally invalid. You have to look at the evidence (circumstantial as it may be). And you cannot criticize people like Benen and Krugman for looking at the evidence and concluding that Republicans' opposition to government intervention in the economy isn't based on ideology, but rather on crass electoral calculations.

Would Benen also agree that "it seems at least worth talking about whether" Democrats prioritized the destruction of Bush's presidency over the needs of the nation? Almost surely not.

There's a reason for that. Congressional Democrats didn't openly state during the Bush Administration that their number one priority was to make him a one-term president. They didn't block every vote they possibly could in the Senate. They didn't turn on their own proposals out of a refusal to give the president a victory.

This is the kind of false equivalence that drives liberals crazy. Sometimes, when people treat Democrats and Republicans differently, it's because they've behaved differently.

Brendan,

Do you not agree, though, to these two premises:

1) Elections are primarily determined by economic factors

2) Republicans have not just the desire but the means to block quite literally everything in the House and Senate

You've made argument 1 over and over and over again, so it's safe to say you agree. Argument 2 is just fact. All that the Collender, Yglesias, Krugman, Benen argument contributes to those two premises is a gaming out of the motivations, political and otherwise, of the opposition party.

If the Republicans understand argument 1, then argument 2 gives them the power to stall economic progress in order to make political gains. This presumes, of course, that the Obama Administration's policy prescriptions would make the economic outlook better, and their defeat would lead to further stagnation. That presumption is not without controversy, I understand.

If we assume, then, that Republicans truly believe that their policies, or at the very least the denial of Obama's policies, will make the economy better, then if they understand argument 1 above, they are trying to both help the economy and, by extension, help the President's chances in 2012.

Republican leaders have repeatedly stated, though, that this is not the case. They've stated that their number one goal is to defeat President Obama politically. To make him a one-term president. I don't feel that it's too stretched a reading that they understand that economic factors largely decide elections, that they have the power to block economic policy in the next 2 years, and that they have the political desire to defeat President Obama electorally. These three make it not unreasonable to ask whether deliberately trying to depress the economy is within some Repulicans' purview.

All - the fact that Republicans have more power now than Democrats did in '03-'06 doesn't provide any additional evidence about their motives. It's certainly true that they have been a more unified opposition party than the Democrats were, but I don't think that provides any evidence about their motives either. If Democratic leaders could have unified their caucus to more aggressively oppose Bush, they probably would have, and it wouldn't have meant they were trying to sabotage the economy, war, etc. Does anyone remember how much Democrats wanted to make Bush a one-term president?

Voting against what had been their own proposals in different times, calling anything to the left of Jim DeMint "socialist," and generally arguing from false premises makes me think that they're more craven and cynical and electorally driven than you're giving them credit for, Brendan.

It's true that we can't know their motives. I of course accept that. We can know what they're doing and what they're saying, however, and I don't feel it's out of line to say that those actions and words provide some often-compelling circumstantial evidence that their motives may be different from the ones that they state.

the fact that Republicans have more power now than Democrats did in '03-'06 doesn't provide any additional evidence about their motives.

OK, fair enough. But you don't address the GOP's 180-degree shift, from 2002 to 2010, on the propriety/effectiveness/constitutionality of economic stimulus. In 2002, it was desirable. In 2010, it is a grave threat to the very existence of the republic. Is there any coherent ideological explanation for that about-face? No.

There is, however, one blindingly obvious political explanation for that reversal: in 2001, economic stimulus tended to benefit a Republican president; in 2010, economic stimulus would benefit a Democrat. And that, you surely must agree, is evidence as to the GOP's motives.

Parties frequently change positions on issues when the president switches parties. Where's the Democratic opposition to the surge in Afghanistan compared to the surge in Iraq? (Etc.). It doesn't mean they're trying to sabotage the country. Also, you can certainly argue that economic circumstances are different between 2002 and 2010.

Conservative pundits frequently suggesting that Democrats are intentionally hurting America didn't start or end with the Bush years. It's a daily theme on right wing talk shows. And it's not just a suggestion, it's stated as fact.


There is no "mind-reading" required. Mitch McConnell was perfectly clear:

"The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president."

It would be nearly impossible to achieve this goal if there is robust economic growth over the next two years. The Republicans know this, and so should you.

I agree with Brendan on this one, consider Carl Sagan's famous quote "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence". The claim that Republicans are sabotaging the economy is extraordinary. Take a second to think about how monumentous this claim really is.

And what about the evidence for it? Are there any released documents? Leaked emails? Congressional aids coming forward testifying? No, none of the above. This chain of reasoning is as loosely formed as 9/11 conspirators, Moon landing deniers, and Pearl Harbor conspirators.

Brendan, I can accept that politicians need to be able to oppose policies of the President and other party etc without it being *assumed* that it's just partisan hackery in defiance of the national interest. But Steve Benen of Washington Monthly and others have meticulously documented the pervasive opposition to Obama and the Democrats at so many levels, going way beyond what could be remotely considered rational. He showed how often they renege on bills they say they support, how many admit to doing this for strategic purposes, how so much is petty sand in gears like routinely blocking nominations, how often they went into filibuster in unprecedented numbers, etc. ad nauseum.

BTW, many Democrats voted for the Iraq invasion etc., went along with tax cuts, etc. REM that war is such a grave issue that many people feel that must challenge it, not what you can say about raising some people's marginal rates a few points etc. See also Sullivan's reflections at Atlantic. In any case, can't you do better than to be another clueless, childishly wishful Broderist lite?

Where's the Democratic opposition to the surge in Afghanistan compared to the surge in Iraq?

That's your only example? Pretty weak.

Liberals have been pretty consistent in opposing military intervention in the absence of direct threats to national security. Plus, the mainstream Democratic opposition to the Iraq War (as you surely know) was based on the idea that Iraq was the wrong target, not that wars are always wrong except when Democrats are in the White House.

Also, you can certainly argue that economic circumstances are different between 2002 and 2010.

You're right, things weren't the same back then. The difference is that the 2009-10 recession is much worse than the 2002 version. If anything, the case for economic stimulus is stronger now than it was back then.

So please provide details of your theoretical, ideologically coherent argument that economic stimulus was justified in 2002 but not justified in 2010.

Otherwise, you are just flailing about here, trying to rationalize your false equivalence bullshit. Go tell it to David Broder; but don't insult the intelligence of your commenters.

Andrew - I'm not the Republicans. You'll have to take up the point with them. My only claim was that you don't exactly have an open and shut case for Republican economic sabotage given that so much of the economic and budgetary context is different between 2002 and 2010. (They also see tax cuts as having different effects than spending, etc.)

As far as Neil's claim, see my comment above. Yes, Republicans have opposed Obama very effectively using the machinery of Congress. Democrats tried to do this to Bush, but they were less effective.

I'm not the Republicans. You'll have to take up the point with them.

But that's exactly what Benen and Collender and Krugman were doing, and you excoriated them for it.

And I can't help but notice that we've now gone from "there is no evidence that the opposition party sought to create a negative outcome" to "you don't exactly have an open and shut case for Republican economic sabotage". Way to move those goalposts!

Poor Brendan, exposed to the winds of left-wing fury.

There's an important distinction that should be drawn that's too often lost. Saying the effect or consequence of a policy or legislative vote is injurious is different from saying that such injury is intentional.

Thus, there should be nothing wrong with Democrats saying that Republican opposition to more stimulus will have bad consequences for the economy; that's very different from saying the Republicans wish to harm the economy. Similarly, saying that Democratic opposition to the U.S. Iraq policy emboldened the insurgents should have been treated differently from statements that the Democrats were intentionally trying to undermine the war effort. (Regrettably, during the previous administration, Brendan frequently elided that distinction.)

Krugman's and Benen's comments fall squarely in the category of ascribing bad motives; Collender's statement is a bit more oblique but probably still qualifies. And, contra Brendan, Yglesias was correctly included in the original post; his reference to "deliberate economic sabotage" is more deft than a straightforward accusation but it's a smear any way you look at it.

The goalposts remain standing at no evidence. The second quote was intended to be understatement.

Brendan and Rob, what amount or type of evidence would you require before you considered accusations of economic sabotage to be more than just baseless "smears"?

- How about favoring stimulus in 2002, when the economy was weak, but opposing it in 2009, when it was much weaker, without any ideologically coherent reason for the switch? Is that evidence?

- How about explicitly stating that your number one objective -- above improving the economy, presumably -- is ensuring the president's defeat in 2012? Is that evidence?

- How about a letter signed by dozens of Republicans asking the Fed to ignore its congressionally-mandated duty to reduce unemployment, also without any coherent ideological basis? Is that evidence?

I understand that this doesn't meet JP's lofty standards (i.e., "released documents? Leaked emails? Congressional aids [sic] coming forward testifying?"). But circumstantial evidence is evidence too, and we ignore it at our peril.

Incidentally, I don't think most Republicans would terribly mind being accused of blocking government efforts to help the economy.

After all, the GOP base believes that government intervention in the economy is always bad. And, if I understand the Tea Party correctly, they would gladly be willing to sacrifice a few points of GDP growth, or a few million jobs, in the name of a smaller less-intrusive government.

In that way, this is totally unlike when Democrats were accused of aiding the enemy in killing American soldiers in Iraq -- a "momentous" accusation if ever there was one.

Andrew, surely you can recognize that there are important differences between the situation in 2002 and the situation now. In 2002 the most recent fiscal year deficit was $144.5 billion. In 2010, the most recent fiscal year deficit was $1.785 billion. That alone would cause a prudent person to consider the wisdom of swelling the deficit. In 2002, there had been no recent stimulus program. In 2010, there was recently a $787 billion stimulus program, plus substantial other expenditures such as the $50 billion bailout of GM (accounted for under TARP rather than under the stimulus bill). Moreover, the 2009 stimulus package has been subject to considerable criticism for waste (e.g., weatherization) and favoring unions (e.g., the Davis-Bacon provision).

I'm not asking that you agree that it's right to oppose a new stimulus bill. I'm asking that you acknowledge that there might be principled objections to a new stimulus bill. Not everyone who opposes a new stimulus bill is trying to sink the economy, just as not everyone who opposes a new hate crimes law is anti-gay and not everyone who opposes affirmative action is racist. Stretch your mind and consider the possibility that intelligent, well-intentioned people may arrive at different policy prescriptions than you do.

Oops, my reference above to $1.785 billion should have been $1.785 trillion. Billion, trillion, gazillion--who can keep it all straight?

I'm asking that you acknowledge that there might be principled objections to a new stimulus bill.

And I'm asking you to consider the evidence (not just the possibility) that the GOP favors government intervention to help the economy when their president stands to benefit; but not when a Dem president stands to benefit.

Sure, it's possible that GOP lawmakers had an epiphany on January 20, 2009 and suddenly realized that deficits - formerly acceptable in the pursuit of economic growth - are now anathema to all that is good and holy in the world. But where's your evidence, other than self-serving statements of the lawmakers themselves?

Clearly, you wish to give Republicans the benefit of the doubt. I don't see any reason to do so. Call it "left-wing fury" if you must, but I've got the evidence on my side.

Rob, you're putting out red herrings and are a sort of caricature here of Brendan. Neither of you get two key points:
1. That one group can be significantly worse than another and it's not just a sloppy case of "they both do it" per se,
2. Critics aren't necessarily "assuming" bad motives. You shouldn't assume that they assume! That's a smear in its own right, for certain. This was a conclusion based on all kinds of research and data points as I said to little avail. I'm a regular reader at WaMo, I know. If you don't like it, you need to dig into the extensive evidence and deductions and not just get the high Broderist vapors over the bare feel of such claims.

Also, Democrats have been critical of Obama more than Republicans of Bush. They have complained about continued war effort, about weak reforms, and so on.

And "Stretch your mind and consider the possibility that intelligent, well-intentioned people may arrive at different policy prescriptions than you do" is a red herring. Of course different sincere people may come to different conclusions, but the overwhelming evidence (again, such as sand in gears obstruction showing basic attitude in other spheres) and stated political objectives, etc. shows a prevalence of obstruction and lots of bad motives.

That of course doesn't mean all of the Republicans. But their best people like Lugar, Danforth, Stockman etc, are reviled and challenged by their base and/or their establishment (whereas we in the other camp welcome and praise their reasonableness.) What does that tell you?

Well, OK ... I can accept that it's hard to know just what a person's conscious purpose really is. So we can't be sure that a number of Republicans really hope the economy does badly so Obama et al can be defeated. What has been meticulously documented (hence not "baseless") is the recklessness of what they've actually done, their professing of clear falsehoods, and so on. It could well be, maybe more believably so, a drive to attack that blinds the actor and not a literal thought "I can get the economy screwed up and take this guy down!" OK, I can believe that - but the alternative is bad enough and still needs to be changed for the good of the country.

Wow! A lot has happened since my last break! I'm going to remind us of another one of Carl Sagan's favorites Occam's razor, the simplest explanation is the most likely one. Maybe Republicans are opposing Democratic legislation because they do not agree with it. Sounds pretty simple to me, this theory is also amazingly supported by the Republican party platform.

@Andrews "Call it "left-wing fury" if you must, but I've got the evidence on my side." In your own words "But circumstantial evidence is evidence too". Please be consistent and each time you use the word evidence precede it by circumstantial.

Wow! A lot has happened since my last break! I'm going to remind us of another one of Carl Sagan's favorites Occam's razor, the simplest explanation is the most likely one. Maybe Republicans are opposing Democratic legislation because they do not agree with it. Sounds pretty simple to me, this theory is also amazingly supported by the Republican party platform.

@Andrews "Call it "left-wing fury" if you must, but I've got the evidence on my side." In your own words "But circumstantial evidence is evidence too". Please be consistent and each time you use the word evidence precede it by circumstantial.

It's easier to attack Republicans than to prove that another stimulus would work. If someone wanted to prove that a stiumulus would be good economic policy, he'd have to begin by admitting that

-- FDR's stimulus failed: unemployment rose to new highs in 1938 after stimulus had been tried.

-- GW Bush tried 1 or 2 stimulus plans. They failed.

-- Japan tried stimulus, but they've been stuck in recession for a decade.

--Obama's stimulus seems to have boomeranged. He predicted 8% unemployment without stimulus. With stimulus, unemployment rose to nearly 10%.

If asked to provide the long list of cases where stimulus succeeded, proponents would rather change the subject. The most convenient subject change being those wascally Wepublicans. It's hard to argue that stimulus will actully work. It's more comfortable to argue that Republicans are evil.

No Republican is going to come right out and say that he hopes Obama will fail. Oh wait. Rush Limbaugh said exactly that shortly after the election. He's a fairly important fellow in conservative circles; some people even say he was/is the de facto head of the RNC. In any case, when he said that (or at any time since), did any Republican office holders disagree?

@David in Cal:

Despite your debunked Fox News talking points, all experts have determined that the 2009 stimulus did work, in that it increased employment and growth. (The administration's employment projections were wrong, but that says nothing about whether we'd be better off with no stimulus at all.)

Just think, without those Democrats and their evil stimulus, you'd probably be without a job today. I think you owe them a big "thank you"!

@JP:

Maybe Republicans are opposing Democratic legislation because they do not agree with it.

OK, great, that clears everything up! Now, explain why GOP lawmakers were totally fine with stimulative measures when Bush was president. What was that about Occam's razor?

Andrew, here are the answers to your questions:

It's not the case that "all experts" have determined that the 2009 stimulus did work, in that it increased employment and growth. Some experts say this -- msotly Administration sycophants who have made that statement.

Do you remember the embarassing doubly-bogus estimates of jobs saved or createtd by the stimulus that Administration created? Their studies were bogus because

1. Jobs were not accurately assigned to the category of "saved or created due to the stimulus". Many jobs were counted that would have continued anyhow or were temporary.

2. Their study ignored the fact that putting money into the stimulus took money away from other areas of the economy, thus reducing employment in those other areas. Note that if point #2 is ignored, any and all government programs would show as increasing employment, yet we know that isn't so.

Why were GOP lawmakers were totally fine with stimulative measures when Bush was President?

1. Many of them weren't that all enthusiastic, but they naturally supported a President of their own party. Many conservative pundits opposed Bush's stimulus from the beginning, frankly (and accurately) predicting that Bush's stimulus would fail.

2. Bush's stimulus was tiny compared to Obama's -- around 1/10 the size.

3. Federal spending and the federal deficit have ballooned under Obama. Obama's predicted deficit is between $1 and $2 trillion per year -- in perpetuity. Bush's average deficit was only 1/10 that amount.

There's a qualitative difference here. Bush can be blamed for one more wasteful government program. OTOH current economic conditions threaten the solvency of the US dollar. "QE2" amounts to monitizing the debt -- that printing more money so that the government can pay its bills. This process has led to hyperinflation in country after country.

E.g. I recently visited Zimbabwe. Their government printed so much money that they had rampant hyper-inflation. They had other terrible policies as well. Anyhow, the result was to virtually destroy their economy. Their unemployment rate is now 80%!

Granted the US certainly hasn't made all of Zimbabwe's terrible mistakes. The point is, the current economic policies are already risky. They could work, but they could lead to economic problems not seen in our lifetimes.

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