Government by Hostage

The National Lampoon Theory of Obama's Second Term

The GOP's threat: unless you elect Romney, we'll make sure nothing in Washington works.

Everybody seems to be buzzing about this Ramesh Ponnuru column today in which he argues that if Obama is reelected, the congressional GOP, far from letting up as the Potus has suggested ("the fever will break," or some such), will contrive to become even more unhinged.

Ramesh is a smart fellow and all, but I don't see why this idea is worthy of attention. It's obvious and has been obvious for weeks, months. Years. Just because Obama expresses a wish pretty clearly doesn't make it so. The GOP will double down against him, no secret there.

Ponnuru, between the lines, intends this as a kind of warning shot--i.e., if this country reelects Obama, it's just asking for dysfunction, so better to elect Romney so the government can work again. This is a GOP tactic first identified and named by Al Franken, back when he was an author. I forget exactly what he called it, but it was 2000, and he described it as roughly governing by hostage.

That is: You want unity and a decrease in polarization? Okay. Elect us. If you don't, polarization continues apace and in fact increases.

I call it the National Lampoon theory, after that magazine's most famous cover: If You Don't Buy This Magazine, We'll Shoot This Dog, the cover copy said, with a human hand holding a gun to the temple of cute mutt. That's today's GOP: If You Don't Elect Mitt Romney, We'll Make Sure Nothing Works. That is literally what they're reduced to. Sad.

This does admittedly make for a bleak second term. A longer consideration of that later. But their threats should certainly be held against them in the near term.