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Posted by on Sep 23, 2009 in Health, Politics, Society | 38 comments

Republicans and Governance

Ezra Klein comments today on a new NBC-WSJ poll that, in my view (and Klein’s, obviously) suggests some interesting things about the GOP style of governance. Here is the part that he quotes:

In addition, 45% approve of Obama’s handling of health care, while 46% disapprove, which is up from his 41%-47% score last month. By comparison, just 21% approve of the Republican Party’s handling of the issue.

And here is the next paragraph, from the First Read piece reporting the poll:

And who will get blamed if health care doesn’t get passed this year? Per the poll, 10% say Obama, 16% say congressional Democrats, and 37% say congressional Republicans.

The reporter-blogger at First Read, Mark Murray, focuses on the most obvious conclusion: that Pres. Obama’s poll numbers on the health care issue have gotten better. But there is a more subtle take-away, which is what these numbers indicate about Republican attitudes toward governance:

The Republican Party’s strategy against health-care reform has been something of a kamikaze mission: destroy the bill through a strategy that also destroys the party, at least in the short-term. The hope is that if they win the war, they’ll be in better shape come the 2010 midterms. Maybe that’ll work. Maybe it won’t.

But if it does work, it won’t leave them in a better position to govern. What Republicans — and, when they’re out of power, Democrats — are doing is essentially discrediting the political process. Piece by piece, bill by bill. The argument, essentially, is that politicians are untrustworthy and Congress is corrupt and interest groups are trying to do horrible things to you and problems are not being solved.

Except that Democrats don’t do this. I disagree with Klein on that point. If anything, Democrats do the opposite when they are in the minority — bend over backward to accommodate Republican intransigence for the sake of getting some kind of substantive legislation passed (or, if one is being unkind, because they are terrified of Republican bullying).

One could say that this is because Democrats are more interested in the ultimate goal — making public policy or law — than in having their way on every point. But I think it’s more than that. It’s not so much that Republicans are less interested in the ultimate goal than they are in “kamikaze obstructionism,” as Klein puts it. It’s that “kamikaze obstructionism” is their ultimate  goal.

Several of Klein’s readers made this point very ably. For example, rt42, quoting the line, “”Republicans may think they’ve found a clever strategy in making it hard for Democrats to govern, but what they’re really doing is making it nearly impossible for anyone to govern,” responds,  “I believe the GOP regards that as a feature, rather than a bug.”

Andrew Long, second in line, writes:

yes, but the sad truth underlying all of this is that the Republicans don’t *want* to govern or to solve problems. They simply want to lower taxes and dismantle entitlements and most of the federal government. That’s the fatal asymmetry inherent in our modern political system.

And there is this, from thescusspeaks:

I think it is very revealing that you said they hope to win the war (meaning stopping health care reform). I don’t think that is the war for republicans, it is the battle. Winning elections is the war for republicans. Passing good policy, helping actual people, that is the point for (many) democrats. That’s the war for us. Winning elections is the battle, that helps us fight the war. It is all backwards with republicans. For them, policy only matters to the degree that passing it or stopping it means they win elections.

Thomas Frank’s recently published book, The Wrecking Crew, lays out this argument (that Republicans are not interested in governance, only in discrediting and ultimately destroying government) very meticulously and convincingly.

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  • tidbits

    Can’t agree with this one. Republicans, advocating limited government (at least on social/entitlement issues) and lower taxes, would be natural opponents of expensive stimulus packages and entitlement expansion.Yes, their goal is to get elected, i.e. gain power, but there is also a principle behind the desire to achieve power which is rooted in lower taxation, limited government, national security and private market problem solving. I’m not saying that their solutions are the right ones anymore than I would say Democratic solutions are the right ones. But both parties have intrinsic, and different, governance philosophies that they propose to follow if elected.Before you go there, I will acknowledge that Bush/Cheney did not follow those principles much of the time, particularly the limited government part. That Bush/Cheney went off the reservation does not, or should not, reflect on other Republicans’ committment to certain principles generally.I will agree that the means used to wage the health care battle have been disconcerting, and that the means currently being employed make governance more difficult than it should be for all involved.

    • GeorgeSorwell

      Tidbits–

      With all due respect, it’s not just Bush and Cheney who violate those principles. You ought to consider the Medicare prescription drug plan, the largest entitlement program since the 1960’s, which was passed with votes from people like John Boehner, Eric Cantor, and Paul Ryan. (Click on this link for more links about the vote tally.)

      Other Republicans’ commitment to those values is, as a practical measure, very questionable.

      • tidbits

        GS – I responded to your comment an hour and a half or two hours ago via Blackberry. I regret that it has not yet processed thru Disqus to the site.

      • tidbits

        GS – I do not disagree that the R Congress was often a rubber stamp for Bush-Cheney. Nor do I disagree that the drug benefit package was an unfunded extension of entitlements.

        I do believe that Bush-Cheney with R Congress in lockstep was a violation of traditional R principles and some Rs have regrets about violating those principles.

        Finally, neither party is pure on principle…it’s why I’m a registered Indie who often agrees or disagrees across pary lines.

        Thanks for pointing out the omissions in my prior comment.

  • Leonidas

    The reporter-blogger at First Read, Mark Murray, focuses on the most obvious conclusion: that Pres. Obama’s poll numbers on the health care issue have gotten better.

    Not really, he just gained back some farthest-left support that he was losing by suggesting he might be done with a public option (which is still dead due to lack of moderate democrat votes).

    The poll numbers in perspective:

    http://www.pollster.com/polls/us/jobapproval-presobama-health.php

  • Leonidas

    Except that Democrats don’t do this.

    *giggle**chuckle**snort**ROFLMAO*

    Meet the old boss, same as the new boss

    http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/15/politics/15bush.html

    President Bush spent Tuesday replenishing his party’s coffers and, in the face of resistance to his Social Security plan and much of the rest of his second-term agenda, struck an aggressive new tone by accusing Democrats of standing for nothing but obstructionism.

    Mr. Bush showed no signs of easing up despite public opinion polls showing tepid support for his approach to reshaping the retirement program and concern among some Republicans in the House and Senate that pushing for legislation this year in the face of intense Democratic opposition will backfire in next year’s elections.

    Mr. Bush was far more biting and partisan at the Republican fund-raiser on Tuesday evening in Washington, in his most combative attack since his re-election on Democrats in Congress.

    On a variety of issues, including Social Security, rethinking the tax code and approval of his judicial nominees, Mr. Bush said, Democrats have done nothing but say no to his ideas while offering none of their own.

    The Democratic leadership, he said, embodies “the philosophy of the stop sign, the agenda of the roadblock.”

    The political risks of his decision to push doggedly ahead with his ambitious agenda were on full display as Mr. Bush appeared twice in Pennsylvania…..

    Hmmm…. wonder when the NYT will call Obama ” far more biting and partisan” for doing the same exact thing?

    • Nice edit job. Amazingly, the story reads very differently when you don’t edit out the references to multiple speeches given by Bush that day:

      “I’m going to continue to call upon the United States Congress, members of both political parties, to stand up, to do what’s right for a young generation of Americans coming up, to fix this Social Security system once and for all,” Mr. Bush told a gathering of the Future Farmers of America on the campus of Pennsylvania State University.

      Mr. Bush was far more biting and partisan at the Republican fund-raiser on Tuesday evening in Washington, in his most combative attack since his re-election on Democrats in Congress.

      It’s clear that the Times is saying that President Bush’s speech at the fundraisers was “far more biting and partisan” than was his speech to the FFA. That is because he told the FFA he would call on “both parties” but he told his partisans “the other party” was at fault. It’s a fair comparison.

      When will the Times treat Obama like that? When he pulls the same crap.

      • Leonidas

        Thurmanhart, the point is he is being called out as partisan for the same things Obama has done, ie., saying that democrats have offered nothing but saying no and offerring none of their own solutions. This is called “his most combative attack since his re-election”. When Obama does it why don’t they call it “combatative”?

        Mr. Bush was far more biting and partisan at the Republican fund-raiser on Tuesday evening in Washington, in his most combative attack since his re-election on Democrats in Congress.

        On a variety of issues, including Social Security, rethinking the tax code and approval of his judicial nominees, Mr. Bush said, Democrats have done nothing but say no to his ideas while offering none of their own.

        The Democratic leadership, he said, embodies “the philosophy of the stop sign, the agenda of the roadblock.”

        • Thurmanhart, the point is he is being called out as partisan for the same things Obama has done, ie., saying that democrats have offered nothing but saying no and offerring none of their own solutions. This is called “his most combative attack since his re-election”. When Obama does it why don’t they call it “combatative”?

          Yes, I know that is your point. And it is badly supported by the article you chose.

          The fact is that President Bush would say he wanted input from Democrats and then refuse to deal with them. On the other hand President Obama has said he wants input from Republicans, and even supported Republican ideas for inclusion – yet the Republicans immediately turn on the proposal they championed only the yesterday and say that Democrats refuse to listen to them. Then they want to pretend as if Obama is just as divisive as Bush was

  • shannonlee

    I agree that Reps only want to destroy any and all legislation right now. They have no interest in doing anything but stopping everything Obama has his name attached to…and some things that they have attached his name to. They would rather see America fail than see a liberal America flourish.In general, Reps want the government out of your pocketbook, but they want to be in your bedroom. “Don’t tell us how to spend our money! Hey, you two can’t get married!”Socially, they are everything that Dems are economically.

  • kritt11

    I’d say Republicans lost their credibility the last time they held the majority and were spending “like drunken sailors”. Remember spending 12 billion a month on Iraq? The Medicare prescription bill? Huge subsidies for Exxon Mobil? The bridge to nowhere and other pork projects? Tax cuts that changed a healthy surplus into a gigantic deficit?Now, of course they have to stick to their principles.

    • Don Quijote

      Now, of course they have to stick to their principles.

      They have principles?

      In as far as I have been able to determine, Republicans only care about starting wars, giving tax cuts to their supporters and looting the treasury and couldn’t give a flying fig about the middle class, the working class or the poor in America…

      If you doubt me, look at the record:

      U.S. Census Bureau: 2.6 Million More Americans Pushed Into Poverty in 2008

      WASHINGTON, Sept. 10 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Annual data released today bythe U.S. Census Bureau indicates that almost 40 million Americans now live inpoverty, the highest number since 1997. This is an increase of 2.6 millionAmericans in 2008. This news comes at a time when the country isexperiencing the highest rate of unemployment in over 25 years.

      US Census Bureau Confirms Rising Poverty, Falling Incomes, and Growing Numbers of Uninsured

      In 2008, poverty reached 13.2% of the population, its highest level in 11 years, the result of millions losing jobs during the first year of the gravest economic crisis since the 1930s. For blacks, the figure was nearly double at 24.7%, and 31% of all Americans were impoverished for at least two months between 2004 and 2007, years of economic expansion.At yearend 2008, even by the Bureau’s conservative measures, 39.8 million people were impoverished, the highest level since 1960, and 17.1 million lived in extreme poverty at below one-half the official threshold. In addition, for the first time since the 1930s, median household income failed to increase over a 10-year period from 1999 – 2008.

      The record speaks for itself…

      • kritt11

        DQ
        I meant that tongue-in-cheek- because they are supposed to have principles,
        but only stick to them when its convenient for them.

        My opinion is that they are unable to govern at the national level because
        they believe government is the problem. They allign with industries like the
        tobacco companies, oil companies and defense contractors to keep themselves
        in power and maintain the status quo. They don’t care about the working
        class or the middle class, but keep their hold on some of them by appealing
        to their religious or racial views. That’s why nobody in the party seriously
        tries to silence the talk radio nuts.

  • Leonidas

    In general, Reps want the government out of your pocketbook, but they want to be in your bedroom. “Don’t tell us how to spend our money! Hey, you two can’t get married!”

    Socially, they are everything that Dems are economically.

    Pretty much agree although that doesn’t apply to all Republicans or all democrats. If you used Social Conservatives and Progressives I would agree 100%. Blue Dogs and Moderate Conservatives don’t fit that bill though.

  • Leonidas

    I’d say Republicans lost their credibility the last time they held the majority and were spending “like drunken sailors”.

    Have to agree to a large degree there, but I also will point out that Democrats lost theirs when they failed to drain the swamp in DC and became just like their predecessors, and gave the Republicans a gift when they made it obvious that spending like a drunken sailor wasn’t as bad as spending like an entire intoxicated navy.

  • $199537

    What strikes me, and this is getting off topic a bit, is how Democrats with their control of the Presidency, House and Senate, with more power than they’ve had in decades, still spend so much of their time worrying about Republicans.

    • GeorgeSorwell

      DaGoat–

      I’d guess that elected Democrats worry because we are still a closely divided country, and they would like to come up with solutions that have reasonably broad popularity.

      I’d also guess that a fair number of moderate conservatives are glad to have the Blue Dog Democrats look out for their interests, since elected Republicans seem to have very little interest in anything but obstruction.

    • kathykattenburg

      Amen to that.

      • HemmD

        Kathy

        Maybe off-topic a little, but this was the easiest way I knew to reach you. Here’s a great column you may not have seen, but certainly worth a look.

        http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-cay-johnston/gop-favors-public-option_b_296703.html

        Maybe food for a post?

        • kathykattenburg

          Hemm,

          It does look interesting, and it actually fits in nicely with the book I’m reading now — “The Wrecking Crew,” by Thomas Frank.

          I’ll read it more closely and see if I can build a post out of it.

          Thanks!

          Kathy

  • Leonidas

    What strikes me, and this is getting off topic a bit, is how Democrats with their control of the Presidency, House and Senate, with more power than they’ve had in decades, still spend so much of their time worrying about Republicans.

    Fear mongering.

    • imavettoo

      Leo, You say what???

  • Leonidas
    • Don Quijote

      “looting the treasury”

      That was Shrub’ s main accomplishment with help from the Hammer and his Brown Shirts…

      How Trillion Dollar Deficits are created

      America’s Sea of Red Ink Was Years in the Making

      The story of today’s deficits starts in January 2001, as President Bill Clinton was leaving office. The Congressional Budget Office estimated then that the government would run an average annual surplus of more than $800 billion a year from 2009 to 2012. Today, the government is expected to run a $1.2 trillion annual deficit in those years.

      You can think of that roughly $2 trillion swing as coming from four broad categories: the business cycle, President George W. Bush’s policies, policies from the Bush years that are scheduled to expire but that Mr. Obama has chosen to extend, and new policies proposed by Mr. Obama.

      The first category — the business cycle — accounts for 37 percent of the $2 trillion swing. It’s a reflection of the fact that both the 2001 recession and the current one reduced tax revenue, required more spending on safety-net programs and changed economists’ assumptions about how much in taxes the government would collect in future years.

      About 33 percent of the swing stems from new legislation signed by Mr. Bush. That legislation, like his tax cuts and the Medicare prescription drug benefit, not only continue to cost the government but have also increased interest payments on the national debt.

      Mr. Obama’s main contribution to the deficit is his extension of several Bush policies, like the Iraq war and tax cuts for households making less than $250,000. Such policies — together with the Wall Street bailout, which was signed by Mr. Bush and supported by Mr. Obama — account for 20 percent of the swing.

      About 7 percent comes from the stimulus bill that Mr. Obama signed in February. And only 3 percent comes from Mr. Obama’s agenda on health care, education, energy and other areas.

      Bush has just completed eight years in office, Obama has only been there eight month.

  • casualobserver

    I wonder if this blog ever had a thread on a poll before where everything was discussed BUT the essence line of the poll. 39% favor Obamacare going into crunch time. Nancy Pelosi polls at 35%. So that’s the folks that would support anything with a D in front of it, plus a favorable margin of error since the prior poll. There is no room for independents in that number, much less any “moderate conservatives”.A compelling message has not been delivered, much less taken hold, for the last 5 months. Whatever might possibly emerge will be greeted with a yawn………and that’s the upside outcome. Nobody wants to be worse off than before and that’s what 61% of adults obviously feel.I guess that’s why the pundits quoted wanted to discuss (with apologies to Joe Gandelman’s sensibilities) what happens once the Republicans get back into a meaningful political leverage situation.

  • Leonidas

    Democrat GovernanceHaving control over three branches of Congress and a filibuster proof majority and still not being to pass healthcare reform due to inter party disagreement and inflexibility, and blaming Republicans for it.

    IT’S THEIR FAULT!!!!

    grow up.

  • This is one of my pet peeves with the chattering classes. Blaming a politician – or a group of politicians – for doing things based on politics is like blaming fish for swimming.

    Of course, Republicans aren’t opposing Obama because of principle. Of course, Republicans want to discredit Democrats. Anyone who thinks this isn’t the way it has always been need to study up on how Vice President Thomas Jefferson worked to derail the agenda of President John Adams.

    I do not believe that Republicans, in general, are out to destroy the government. However, there is a very large segment of the Republican party that celebrates its anti-intellectual sentiment. And, the world being what it is, sometimes a bit of intellectualism is necessary. Hey, putting on a horse show is not an easy thing, but it is not preparation for evacuating New Orleans under emergency conditions. So the anti-intellectual segment worships “horse-sense” and puts people into positions for which they aren’t qualified and then disaster follows.

    What I’m saying is that there are a lot of incompetents out there that stand in a position to do a great bit of harm. And, from time to time, they manage to do a great bit of harm.

    Will opposing the Democrats destroy the Republicans? No. Not by itself. It is not the opposition that is the problem, but the manner in which that opposition is voiced. Eventually, they have to get away from the calls of “socialism” and “hates america.” I think that approach has gained all the votes that it’s going to gain.

  • Father_Time

    Republicans don’t want a strong government because those that foot the bill for electing them don’t want government regulation or taxes.

    Weaken government and you weaken the collective will of the people.

    Weaken the will of the people and you can control the people with your ill-gotten money that you have made without regulation and that you do not have to pay taxes on. Money that, under a democracy, is used to support and enable the people’s majority will is then used against the majority. You can then use your money and thus power to control the people the way that you wish or by the wishes of a contriving few that compete with you for supremacy.

    Remember that corporations have no vote and the rich and powerful have only one vote each just as you and I.

    Not being content with one individual vote, the rich and powerful have gained control of the Republican party, abuse the people’s constitutional right of redress of government via the lobby and use nefarious media broadcasting to beguile the unwitting into voting against their own best interest with emotional but empty rhetoric.

    • ProfElwood

      “Republicans don’t want a strong government because those that foot the bill for electing them don’t want government regulation or taxes.” — Can you name one Republican, or Democrat, president who weakened the government?

      “Weaken government and you weaken the collective will of the people.” — What is “collective will”? The strongest “collective wills” in history usually came just before a revolution. I must admit, though, that is when the government is typically the strongest.

      “Not being content with one individual vote, the rich and powerful have gained control of the Republican party,…” — Oddly enough, I agree. But currently, Democrats are getting the higher bids.

      I’ll say it again: the historical role of government is to give the rich a reliable, unearned line of wealth. Without government support, the children or grandchildren of the richest people slide back toward middle class, or even poor. The larger the government, regardless of its stated purpose or ideology, the larger the divide is between rich and poor.

      • Father_Time

        Answer One: Every Republican President, (or any), that advocated and accomplished reduction of regulation and promoted the inequality of unjust taxation favoring the wealthy has weakened government.

        Answer Two: Collective will = will of the Collective Majority. I know it’s the word “collective” that worries you. It’s just a common English word. Not a revolution of the common.

        Answer Three: Hopefully that will continue and hopefully they will become even more liberal minded until social justice becomes the norm in America rather than the exception.

        Yes of course I agree. Can you imagine how wonderfully our schools would be funded and staffed if there were no private schools to compete with, teachers were paid as the professionals they are, and, the wealthy spoiled had to compete in the same schools as everybody else?! Why it would be a social Darwinist’s utopia by description. Unfortunately conservative desire does not want fair and equal, they want an unequal edge over everybody else and are willing to pay for it. As you describe, short term as it may be.

        • superdestroyer

          President Bush signed Sarbanesoxley, President Bush created the Department of Homeland Security, President Bush increased the diversity regulations of the federal government. President Bush signed No Child Left Behind.

          Considering that Bush was called weak on the environment yet not one refinery, not one nuclear power plant, not one coal fired plant was built during his term in office.

          The only regulations Bush was weak on were things like open borders and unlimited immigration that the Democrats openly supported.

          • Sorry, but I have to address this:

            Considering that Bush was called weak on the environment yet not one refinery, not one nuclear power plant, not one coal fired plant was built during his term in office.

            Yeah, not a single nuke plant has been built in thirty-five years, which means Bush was incredibly different from everyone else. Great example.

            “Not one refinery” has been built – because it isn’t needed. Take a look at the pdf. The largest problem facing refineries at this moment is excess capacity. You don’t build new refineries when you have excess capacity. Despite the fact that numerous refineries have been shuttered, refining capacity (and utilization) has increased over the last ten years because existing refineries were expanded. Why expand rather than build a new one? Because an expansion doesn’t have to meet all the same environmental regulations. On top of that, the biggest reason cited for not building more refineries is the variability of the price of gasoline.

            The largest factor is failing to build coal-fired plants is the cost of raw materials for building such a plant. Furthermore, only a simpleton would talk of building a new coal-fired plant in eight years. The timeframe from ground-breaking is ten to fifteen years. What President Bush did do was push through the siting and licensing process so that 59% of new planned additions to the grid are based on burning coal. Beyond that, my brother was laid off last week in Wisconsin from a new construction coal-burning power plant. Also, check out the Weston 4 plant, an expansion which included building the newest, and cleanest burning, coal plant in America.

            Sometimes you have to go somewhere besides Fox News to get some facts.

          • Father_Time

            Oh yeah there were several Coal fired plants built during G.Dubya’s reign. ITAN in Missouri is just one. Not to mention those coal fired plants made BIGGER! You might as well say Bush did nothing to combat Global Warming. The idiot Don’t believe it exists!

            Bush signed No Child Left Behind alright, but NEVER funded it! Dept of Homeland Security…more Big government? Diversity regulations….like what?

            Man you just do not know what you are talking about at all.

  • Leonidas

    Weaken government and you weaken the collective will of the people.

    Oh really???

    http://www.pollingreport.com/right.htm

    Care to find me in these polls anytime during the Obama Presidency where more that 50% of the people thought the country was going in the right direction? Not many times during the Bush administration either despite his increase of government power.

    • Father_Time

      Polls?Please Leonidas, you’re making a complete fool of yourself. What venue do the masses have without the expression of their will through their collective vote? How can government be controlled and influenced without the power of the individual vote? Are you suggesting another form of government altogether or what? Remove regulation that protects the public and you weaken the government’s ability to protect the public.

      Good grief.

  • Leonidas

    Can you name one Republican, or Democrat, president who weakened the government?

    I can name you one of each, both outstanding Presidents, at least in my criteria:

    Democratic Grover Cleveland
    Republican Calvin Coolidge

  • TomDegan

    Sit, Blue Dog, sit! Good, Blue Dog! Nice, Blue Dog! Now be a good little doggy and lie down and play dead! On second thought, lie down and stay dead! GOOD boy!

    What gives here anyway? I grew up believing that the Democratic party was the “party of the people”! I was reminded of this again last weekend when I made a little pilgrimage to the FDR Library in Hyde Park, NY. President Roosevelt ushered regular people like you and I into the twentieth century. He brought electricity to the rural south! The middle class that we all now take for granted – which hadn’t even existed prior to the New Deal – is now in serious danger of vanishing. Look around you. The signs – ominous and disturbing – are all there. The entire reason for the existence of the Loony Right Wing since 1964 has been to roll back the advantages gained by the New Deal and the civil rights movement. Do you think I’m being an alarmist? Fine. Just keep sending these Right Wing extremists and these Blue Dog Democrats to Washington and see what happens.

    The Democrats are not going to distinguish their party by trying to sell themselves as Republican Lite. They’re not going to turn America around by foolishly preserving the policies of the last thirty years. They need to educate their constituency by showing them the folly of their abhorrence of things “Left” and “Liberal”. Three-quarters-of-a-century ago, American democracy was saved by a government that was decidedly left-of center in all but a few areas. It can happen again. But it’s only going to happen if WEEDA PEEPOLE refuse to turn right at the next crossroad. It is only down the road.

    http://www.tomdegan.blogspot.com

    Tom Degan
    Goshen, NY

  • DLS

    Demmies have all the power, they have ovrerreached to the point where they’re fractured as well as ineffective due to ineptitude, and what happens? More scapegoating of Republicans, or the public, or any other handy object rather than face the truth, that lib Dem overreach is wrecking health care “reform.”

    The Demmie desperation continues!

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