JONATHAN CHAIT AUGUST 19, 2011
Charles Krauthammer expresses indignation that President Obama would suggest that Republicans in Congress would rather defeat Obama than compromise:
In Obama’s recounting, however, luck is only half the story. His economic recovery was ruined not just by acts of God and (foreign) men, but by Americans who care nothing for their country. These people, who inhabit Congress (guess which party?), refuse to set aside “politics” for the good of the nation. They serve special interests and lobbyists, care only about the next election, place party ahead of country. Indeed, they “would rather see their opponents lose than see America win.” The blaggards!
For weeks, these calumnies have been Obama staples. Calumnies, because they give not an iota of credit to the opposition for trying to promote the public good, as presumably Obama does, but from different premises and principles. Calumnies, because they deny the legitimacy to those on the other side of the great national debate about the size and scope and reach of government.
Charging one’s opponents with bad faith is the ultimate political ad hominem. It obviates argument, fact, logic, history. Conservatives resist Obama’s social-democratic, avowedly transformational agenda not just on principle but on empirical grounds, as well — the economic and moral unraveling of Europe’s social-democratic experiment, on display today from Athens to the streets of London.
Let's ignore the wild comparison between Obama's agenda and Greece, and the merely stupid comparison between Obama's agenda and Great Britain, which is imposing massive fiscal contraction. It is surely true that accusing an opponent of putting electoral success ahead of the national interest is a nasty accusation, as well as an unprovable one, given the difficulty of establishing motive.
Still, the circumstantial evidence strongly suggests that Republicans have decided they'd rather defeat Obama than agree to a compromise that might benefit him politically while advancing their agenda. The economic consensus overwhelmingly holds that looser money and fiscal stimulus are the appropriate policy response to the Great Recession. In 2001, when we had a Republican president and a much less dire economic emergency, Republicans demanded looser money and more stimulus. They have undergone an intellectual conversion at a time that makes very little sense given economic circumstances but a great deal of sense given the partisan circumstances.
Like I said, this is circumstantial evidence. Some element of the GOP embrace of what most economists consider contractionary policies during the greatest economic disaster in eighty years may reflect genuine intellectual conversion. Other parts no doubt reflect intellectual conversion as rationalization for partisan self-interest, and others still as self-conscious partisanship.
Luckily, we don't have to guess about the Congressional GOP's motive. Republican leader Mitch McConnell has openly said that his top priority is defeating Obama. McConnell didn't go so far as to openly say he would turn down a bargain that he believed to be in the national interest on the grounds that it would improve Obama's standing. But it is the straighforward implication of his statement, especially in light of McConnell's stated belief that the crucial factor in making Obama's policies unpopular with the public is to deny them bipartisan support. Krauthammer is furiously defending Republicans from something they publicly admit to be true.
If you recall, John McCain made his willingness to put country ahead of party, and his opponent's alleged refusal to do the same, the primary theme of his 2008. This did not cause Krauthammer to cry calumny! and challenge McCain to a duel. Instead it resulted in Krauthammer himself repeating that slogan on behalf of McCain.
Reading a Charles Krauthammer column used to be a challenging exercise. To be sure, it frequently involved sophistry, but the deception was always clever. You read through the column nodding your head until the conclusion, and you'd have to read through it a second time to discover the trick, like a condition which was possibly true in the third paragraph had become necessarily true by the seventh. It was like having your money taken by a skilled three card monte artist. But those days are long gone, and now Krauthammer just hits you ever the head and takes your wallet.