In Defense of GOP Sabotage

Republicans have a lot to apologize for, but trying to sabotage the economy over the next few months isn’t one of them.

Steve Benen wonders whether Republicans are deliberately attempting to sabotage the economy to enhance their electoral prospects.  Jonathan Chait defends the GOP’s motives :

I think you have to be careful about making assumptions about motive like this. Establishing motive is always very hard to prove. What’s more, the notion of deliberate sabotage presumes a conscious awareness that doesn’t square with human psychology as I understand it. People are extraordinarily deft at making their principles — not just their stated principles, but their actual principles — comport with their interests. The old Upton Sinclair quote — “It is difficult to make a man understand something when his salary depends upon him not understanding it” — has a lot of wisdom to it…

I’m not excusing their behavior. You can resist that kind of mental trap — it just takes a lot of intellectual discipline and integrity. I don’t think you’re going to find a great deal of that sort of intellectual discipline and integrity among high-level politicians.

Well, then let me defend their behavior, sort of.

If you’re a right-wing Republican nutcase — which is to say, you are a Republican — then you think that Democratic policies are very, very bad for the country.  If that is so, then what you fear is that the economy will improve, salvaging Democratic hopes for this November’s midterms.  And that will lead to more Democratic policies than otherwise, which — in your view — will be very, very bad for the country.

So of course you want to “sabotage” any economic recovery over the next few months, because you believe that any temporary improvement will pale in comparison to the medium- and long-term damage that Democratic policies will cause.  That’s a hard calculus, but it’s a pretty straightforward one, and perfectly reasonable if you accept Republican assumptions.

In 2006, I was frightened that the economy would somehow improve and save Republican control of Congress.  Fortunately it didn’t, and Democrats took over, to the lasting benefit of the nation.  I don’t think that I, or any Democrat, should apologize for that attitude.  And neither should Republicans now.  They should apologize for their world-view, their ideology, and their refusal to face facts.  But not this.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

9 thoughts on “In Defense of GOP Sabotage”

  1. Of course, if you think Democratic policies are bad for the country, this at least implies that you think Democratic policies are bad for the economy. I've noticed that a lot of Democratic reasoning about Republican motives goes like this:

    1 Democratic policies have good effects.

    2. EVERYBODY agrees with this, including Republicans.

    3. But Republicans oppose Democratic policies.


    4. Republicans must want BAD effects. Republicans are acting from evil motives.

    Of course, premise 1 is questionable, and premise 2 is batsh*t crazy.

  2. Another possibility is that Republicans don't care what's good for the country and so don't care whether Democratic policies, or Republican policies, are good or bad for the country. Rather, they may care only that Republican policies are good for them personally. They may simply want more redistribution of wealth from the poor and middle class to the rich. Just a thought.

  3. "In 2006, I was frightened that the economy would somehow improve and save Republican control of Congress. Fortunately it didn’t, and Democrats took over, to the lasting benefit of the nation."

    The problem is, hoping the economy does not improve so that your group has an opportunity to gain the majority and implement what you believe to be appropriate policies is not the same as actively campaigning against and acting against the possibilities of economic improvement. There never was this level of Democratic opposition to policies promoted by the Republican majority at any point the Democrats were in the minority.

    Oh, there you go. You got me started on weak-kneed Democrats. Way to ruin my Friday…

  4. I think Perspecticus has it in spades. Here's an stacked analogy: you (the conservative) may wish that your spouse (the country) would stop driving drunk (voting for democrats). You might even hope that they get in a not-too-bad accident that forces them to change their ways. But it is not OK to sneak into the bar parking lot and drain their brake fluid.

    Liberals, of course, were accused of treason when they merely predicted that the invasion of Iraq would become a debacle. Didn't hope for it, didn't work to make it so (indeed often actively tried to prevent elements of the debacle), but the accusation remained (and remains).

  5. There's a moral difference between Jonathan's worries in 2006 (which I shared) and Republican leadership today – Jonathan had no responsibility over the economy. Congressional Republicans do. I can excuse their hopes for a bad economy, but not actions that make it more likely, and a willingness to sabotage the short-term economy justified by a far-fetched political analysis is not an excuse.

  6. If they really believe that Democratic economic policy initiatives are bad for the economy, shouldn't they allow the Senate to vote on them so that the economy can become worse?

    This Brett, is why Democrats think the Republicans know that what the Democrats want to do will help the economy. The whole strategy we are discussing makes no sense otherwise.

  7. You want to be able to salvage the distinction between two Republicans, or two Democrats, who may both hope conditions don't give an opposing-party President a leg up, but only one of whom strikes you as having a ruin-or-ruin attitude. I've encountered people of both parties who didn't seem to me to have that attitude, &, increasingly, ones who did. Zasloff's charitable interpretation elides the distinction.

  8. While I do think that Democratic policies are bad for the country, very few of my fellow right wing nutcases that I have spoken to have ever wished for the economy to go bad, no matter the party in the White House. As a result, just because the Democrats hoped for the economy to tank to help them with the election, does not mean that such an impulse should be projected on Republicans. Wishing for the economic melt-down we have suffered means an indifference to the cumulative and long-lasting effects on real people in large numbers. As far as whether we are now better off under Obama: what a ludicrous assertion. What evidence is there that our unemployment picture has improved based on federal actions? Our security is increasingly threatened by confusion over Afghanistan created by the troop withdrawal deadline, the ever-dithering policy on Iran, where the sanctions from Congress are likely to be too little and too late, and where our allies, such as Israel, Poland and Honduras, are faced with scary prospects of our lack of steadfast support. The "reset" on Russia is based on capitulation, and Islamist Turkey has swung over to our enemies due to a failure of nerve from Washington.

  9. doretta:

    It's possible that republicans might think that democratic economic policies longterm will damage the country, while acknowledging that short-term initiatives will yield temporary improvements in illusory, meaningless things like the number of people out of a job, going hungry at night or dying for lack of medical care. Indeed, a huge chunk of what passes for contemporary economic seriousness these days (as Krugman keeps pointing out) involves calling for other people to suffer and die so that the economy will eventually emerge stronger, fitter and better able to support the survivors.

    But you're not actually seeing anyone campaigning on that, or using that as a justification for their votes. Instead of saying, "Yeah, you five million will have to stay out of work for the next few years and lose everything you have so we can build a fitter economy," or "You hundred thousand will have to die preventable deaths because it would be immoral to fund your care" they natter on about how wrong it would be to add a fraction of a percent to the national debt (even though the addition would actually reduce the ostensibly crucial debt-to-gdp ratio).

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