None Dare Call it … but they are

Michael Gerson, at WaPo, on …

Do you think this is spin? Is the sabotage theory a spin?

Yet this is precisely what the sabotage theorists must deny. They must assert that the case for liberal policies is so self-evident that all opposition is malevolent. But given the recent record of liberal economics, policies that seem self-evident to them now seem questionable to many. Objective conditions call for alternatives. And Republicans are advocating the conservative alternatives – monetary restraint, lower spending, lower taxes – they have embraced for 30 years.

It is difficult to overstate how offensive elected Republicans find the sabotage accusation, which Obama himself has come very close to making. During the run-up to the midterm election, the president said at a town hall meeting in Racine, Wis.: “Before I was even inaugurated, there were leaders on the other side of the aisle who got together and they made the calculation that if Obama fails, then we win.” Some Republican leaders naturally took this as an attack on their motives. Was the president really contending that Republican representatives want their constituents to be unemployed in order to gain a political benefit for themselves? No charge from the campaign more effectively undermined the possibility of future cooperation.

The sabotage accusation, once implicit, is now direct among panicked progressives. Part of the intention seems to be strategic – to discourage Obama from considering Clintonian ideological triangulation. No centrist concessions, the argument goes, will appease Republicans who hate the president more than they love the country. So Obama should double down on liberalism, once again.

It is very bad political advice. It also indicates a movement losing contact with political reality. When an ideology stumbles, its adherents can always turn to alcohol – or to conspiracy theories. It is easier to recover from alcohol. Conspiracy thinking is not only addictive, it is tiresome. It precludes the possibility of interesting policy debate or genuine disagreement – how can you argue with a plot?

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Rick

    He is right, but I unfortunately heard similar accusations against liberals/progressives in regards to the war in Iraq. Some claimed the libs/progs wanted us to lose the war in order to make the Bush administration/Republicans look worse.

  • Dan Arnold

    Fascinating! When the republican leadership is publicly saying that their number one priority is not to create jobs, not to prevent another financial meltdown, not to promote stability in the Middle East, but rather, is to prevent Obama from being re-elected, how can Gershon unequivocally rule out “sabotage”? His party leadership has tacitly stated that is their priority.

    Is he forgetting so quickly what the republican/neo-con policies did to this country’s economy just two years ago? Talk about an ideology stumbling and then resulting to conspiracy theories. This is exactly when his party has done (Obama’s a communist, Obama hates America)!

  • DRT

    The question is, is it sabotage or stupidity? That’s Hanlon’s razor:

    Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

    So the Repubs are in the odd position of having to convince people that they are just stupid.

    I think it is obvious that it is sabotage. I just wrote that in a post here last week.

  • stephen

    Yes, Gerson’s article is spin. It’s a case of projection. Pot, meet Glenn Beck.

    At this point, the political climate in this country is so poisonous, I really fear for the next two years.

  • steve_sherwood

    I believe this to be spin. When a GOP congressman campaigns for a chairmanship by saying “I want to be the Patton of the GOP army to defeat the Obama Administration and its goals,” it doesn’t take conspiracy theories to come to the conclusion that the GOP’s goal is little other than obstruction.

    Now holding one house, it will be a great opportunity for the Republicans to show otherwise, but I am not expecting much in the way of constructive policy proposals or cooperation.

  • Scott

    No, not spin. I think sabotage is the game, but I think Republicans truly believe that the end justifies the means.
    I think they are incapable of imagining any scenario in which the country could do well with Obama at the helm.

    I think it’s a failure of imagination. An absolute incapacity to attribute positive motives to liberals. I attribute positive motives to conservative Republicans… but I think that their positive motives are producing obstructionist behavior.

  • Daniel

    The comments do make me smile. Evil, evil Republicans. Hiss, boo! Such a short memory. Just a few years ago it was the malevolent Bush who was a stupid, evil genius. Now it is the entire Republican party. And it is because they are such masters at communication that the unwashed masses are duped and led astray. The POTUS needs to go for it – put all of his eggs into one progressive basket and see how that works out for his party in two more years. God forbid anyone admits any error in judgment.

  • MikeB

    Quick thoughts…
    1) Are GOP lobbying businesses to hold off on hiring or stop growing for the next two years? Really? In what concrete ways can it be demonstrated that the Republican party is attempting to sabotage US economic recovery? And saying blocking passing of stimulus, healthcare etc really does not count since that is the core difference between the parties. How to deal with issues at the policy level.

    2) “the GOP’s goal is little other than obstruction.”
    That depends on your point of view. If you want the progressive agenda to move forward than sure the GOP is obstructing. Personally I am glad they said no to more government deficit spending. Again there is a difference in how the two parties (and by extension the country) view how to handle issues (see point 1) so not voting for progressive bills is their way of voting for their views.
    Is the Democratic party obstructing when they vote against a predominantly GOP bill?

  • Mark Baker-Wright

    And Republicans are advocating the conservative alternatives – monetary restraint, lower spending, lower taxes – they have embraced for 30 years.

    I strongly question the “embrace” Republicans have given any but the last of those three points in recent years, let alone “for 30″ of them.

  • Nate

    Thank you, Mark, for demonstrating what ideological thinking does in the face of failure. :)

  • Richard

    Gerson is beating on a straw man when he refers to “liberal economics.” As for whether or not the GOP obstructed anything and everything over the last 2 years, including unemployment for suffering US citizens, look at the voting record and public statements. Now they publicly state that their goal is to see Obama be a one-term president and to repeal healthcare “reform” (which was so centrist that it mirrored the GOP plan from the mid-90s).

    And please, enough with the “conservatives are concerned about deficits and liberals aren’t” junk. It was the neo-conservatives that slashed revenues with the Bush-era tax cuts and everyone in Congress led us into a 2 front war against “terror” based on junk intelligence from the White House. Liberals and conservatives aren’t as different as people like to think – both have no problem spending taxpayer dollars for their cause.

  • Mich

    Gerson’s article is total sping.
    Consider in order:
    1. The “polocies” Republicans embrace haven’t worked for 30 years, and are the cause of our present mess. Yet they continue to offer the same solutions. Also they are just plain irrational–How can extending the Bush tax cuts for the upper 1% of Americans NOT increase the deficit? Fiscal responsibility?

    2. Sabotage–consider START–the number of conservatives urging Republicans to pass this treaty is a whos who of the past 30 years–Kissinger even backs it–yet the Senate Republicans say it’s a non-starter.

    3. Gerson like all good deficit hawks, still offers no program for the number one issue in our economy: JOBS. Why should he–Republicans support corporate America, and their markets are overseas now–where they off shored the manufacturing jobs.

  • MattR

    I agree with several here… I think the WaPo article itself is merely spin.

    I have not heard progressives unanimously claim that all Republicans or conservatives want to sabotage the country’s well being.

    The author seems to ignore the deeper issues here…

    When Republican leadership comes out and says their mission is to make the President “fail,” and to make him a “one term president,” and basically actively try to block even ideas that they once promoted, because it would be seen as a ‘win’ for Obama… we have some problems. And even conservatives should publicly condemn such tactics.

    However, our political climate has come to the point where each side feels like it ‘wins,’ not if it governs or builds consensus around key issues, but only if it publicly humiliates the other side and makes them ‘lose.’

    The issue really is a gamble about tactics to get elected or to get ones party back in power… and too often the public rewards these by doing just that!

    That, in my opinion, is bad for America as a country.

  • DRT

    One last thought, I have, sadly, come to realize that many and perhaps most people out there do not have an intuitive or even educated concept of a win win situation. They view the world as a win lose where they may not be sure if they are winning, but if the other side is losing then it is their desired outcome.

    I consider this a defect in the gene pool.

  • Mark McDonnel

    “It is difficult to overstate how offensive” it is to hear that the Republicans have embraced “monetary restraint, lower spending, lower taxes” for the last thirty years. Except for a few voices, it seems to me that most Conservative people I hear from, whether in elected office or just friends and family echo what Rush said, that they want to see Obama fail. I still remember when Palin criticized Obama for openly disagreeing with a Supreme Court decision. She said that it undercut the dignity and honor of the Supreme Court. But she and many other regularly run down the president and have no problem with the idea of undercutting the dignity and honor of the presidency.

  • Richard

    I think one of the major issues going forward will be if the GOP continues to misinterpret the mid-term elections as “go GOP, do what you want to do” instead of recognizing that the voters want the government to do something about the economy and are sick of the grand-standing on both sides.