Politics

06.15.12

From Day One

I've been reading Robert Draper's Do No Ask What Good We Do, about the new GOP House, and it opens with a very interesting anecdote. On the night of Obama's inauguration, Draper writes, about 15 GOP legislators from both houses--along with Newt Gingrich, journalist Fred Barnes, and pollster Frank Luntz, who arranged the evening--got together at a Washington restaurant.

They were not necessarily the party's official leaders, but they were the emotional leaders of the new breed--Jim DeMint, Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy--which is to say, the cohort to whom many others were looking for leadership; indeed, if you know anything about Mitch McConnell, to whom the leadership was looking for leadership. They talked for four hours about what their posture should be.

They agreed that night: oppose everything in completely unity. Show, Draper writes, "united and unyielding opposition to the president's economic policies."

So, before President Obama had proposed a single idea, the Republicans had already decided that they would oppose everything he did. Didn't matter what it was. Look his plans over and see where we might be able to work together? Are you kidding?

Remember, this is the middle of a near-depression. The country lost around 800,000 jobs that very month. Every economic indicator was in the toilet and quickly rushing down into the sewer. The country was at the rock-bottom point of its worst economic crisis in the lifetimes of every one of the men in that room.

One might hope under such circumstances that the agenda-setting members of a minority party would, oh, convene a meeting in which someone said something like, "You know, we don't like this president, and we're not going to agree with him much, but let's remember that almost a million Americans are losing their jobs this month, so we might want to find one or two areas of agreement."

If anyone said such a thing, which seems doubtful, Draper doesn't record it. Instead, the posture was--oppose, and stick him with the blame.

And no, Democrats don't behave this way. I have shown before that Democrats in Congress voted at far higher rates for Bush's signature legislative proposals than Republicans did for Obama's, by 41 percent to 6 percent. It's not chiefly because Democrats are better people, although it's certainly true that Democrats aren't as ideologically crazed as Republicans. it's chiefly because many Democrats were in January 2001 from purple districts. But whatever the reason, Democrats didn't and don't do this.

It's pretty amazing, and it's worse that they get away with it because it's precisely the behavior expected of them, so no one bats an eye any more. But this is not even the behavior of apes, who are far more socialized.