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Kamikaze Obstructionism

You guys like polls, right?

45% approve of Obama’s handling of health care, while 46% disapprove, which is up from his 41%-47% score last month. By comparison, just 21% approve of the Republican Party’s handling of the issue.

The Republican Party's strategy against health-care reform has been something of a kamikaze mission: destroy the bill through a strategy that also destroys the party, at least in the short-term. The hope is that if they win the war, they'll be in better shape come the 2010 midterms. Maybe that'll work. Maybe it won't.

But if it does work, it won't leave them in a better position to govern. What Republicans -- and, when they're out of power, Democrats -- are doing is essentially discrediting the political process. Piece by piece, bill by bill. The argument, essentially, is that politicians are untrustworthy and Congress is corrupt and interest groups are trying to do horrible things to you and problems are not being solved.

All those thing might be true, but they're being said, in this case, by politicians who want to take back Congress and start negotiating with interest groups to solve problems. That's not going to work terribly well, and for obvious reasons. Republicans may think they've found a clever strategy in making it hard for Democrats to govern, but what they're really doing is making it nearly impossible for anyone to govern. American politics is trapped in a cycle of minority obstruction, and though that's good for whomever the minority is at the moment, it's not particularly good for making progress on pressing issues.

By Ezra Klein  |  September 23, 2009; 2:03 PM ET
Categories:  Polls  
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"Republicans may think they've found a clever strategy in making it hard for Democrats to govern, but what they're really doing is making it nearly impossible for anyone to govern."

I believe the GOP regards that as a feature, rather than a bug.

And it's not like the Dems were all *that* successful in blocking the GOP when they were in the minority: see the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, the Iraq war vote, Medicare Part D, the Military Commissions Act, the FISA bill, etc.

The GOP, should they get back in power, will expect the Dems to be the pushovers they've been, until they prove otherwise.

Posted by: rt42 | September 23, 2009 2:10 PM | Report abuse

yes, but the sad truth underlying all of this is that the Republicans don't *want* to govern or to solve problems. They simply want to lower taxes and dismantle entitlements and most of the federal government. That's the fatal asymmetry inherent in our modern political system.

Posted by: andrewlong | September 23, 2009 2:20 PM | Report abuse

The GOP is relying on our national case of Korsakov's syndrome. Whether a bill passes or not, the latest faux outrage will have driven the party's nihilistic behavior off the news pages by christmas. (And if they continue it with other initiatives, well, that' old news and not worth covering.)

Here's $10 betting that if the republicans retake a majority in either house of congress, or even show significant gains, Ezra's employer will issue repeated calls for the democrats to be "bipartisan" and be terribly disappointed if they're not.

Posted by: paul314 | September 23, 2009 2:20 PM | Report abuse

I think it is very revealing that you said they hope to win the war (meaning stopping health care reform). I don't think that is the war for republicans, it is the battle. Winning elections is the war for republicans. Passing good policy, helping actual people, that is the point for (many) democrats. That's the war for us. Winning elections is the battle, that helps us fight the war. It is all backwards with republicans. For them, policy only matters to the degree that passing it or stopping it means they win elections.

Posted by: thescuspeaks | September 23, 2009 2:28 PM | Report abuse

The Democrats in opposition were never half so disingenuous.

Posted by: adamiani | September 23, 2009 2:32 PM | Report abuse

"What Republicans -- and, when they're out of power, Democrats -- are doing is essentially discrediting the political process."

Well put and long overdue. The only change I'd make would be to strike "when they're out of power". Democrats like Baucus, Feinstein, et al have discredited and shamefully violated the political process in a myriad of ways.

Posted by: akmakm | September 23, 2009 2:36 PM | Report abuse

A new slogan for right-wing political campaigns:
"Government doesn't work. Vote for me, and I'll prove it."

Posted by: mogreenie | September 23, 2009 2:46 PM | Report abuse

These are bad bills that reward PhRMA, big labor, large corporations, big insurance companies-----all the entities that rip us off now----the bills are filled with special favors, using mythical savings from waste and fraud.

And the bills CRUELLY offer benefits that can't be used----- like an expansion of Medicaid, WHICH FEW DOCTORS TAKE NOW.

----the bills contain silliness like money for bicycle paths---- taken out of Medicare budget as offsets when the Medicare trust funds desperately need investment with 35 million MORE seniors coming into Medicare shortly.

The DEMs have become selectively callous towards the over 65 folks for political expediency alone.

And a movement of a lousy 3 or 4% FOR the bills after the Obama blitz means the dogs still are not going for the porky dog food.

Posted by: johnowl | September 23, 2009 2:57 PM | Report abuse

Come on Ezra; is your memory that short? Didn't the Dems successfully employ this exact strategy to kill the Bush Social Security reform?

Posted by: kingstu01 | September 23, 2009 3:01 PM | Report abuse

When I read that 46% disapprove of Obama’s handling of health care, I wonder if this statistic doesn't conflate two very different attitudes, i.e., those who disapprove because they believe he should be more progressive and should advocate a single-payer system, and those who disapprove because they believe he is a socialist (and/or communist/fascist/nazi) intent on engineering a government takeover of every aspect of health care in America.

Posted by: Refidnas | September 23, 2009 3:01 PM | Report abuse

johnowl, great post man...

Posted by: kingstu01 | September 23, 2009 3:02 PM | Report abuse

I agree with Refidnas. The disagree with Obama's strategy number is a combination of Republicans who think he's a Kenyan socialist who wants to kill their grandmother and liberal Dems who want him to ram straight up single-payer down Chuck Grassley's throat.

Posted by: hackett1 | September 23, 2009 3:09 PM | Report abuse

speaking of that, Cantor just blamed Democrats' "intransigence" for the pace of the House bill:

Now I'm just confused. Are Democrats rushing health reform too much, or slowing it down too much?

Posted by: bean3 | September 23, 2009 3:10 PM | Report abuse

The Republicans would be satisfied with a functionally dead federal government. States, and even smaller governmental units, would then be free to go their own ways. The result would be a stealth session from the union. We might have a euro-style New England, a theocracy in the South, and ultra laissez-faire in the West. Such an arrangement would resemble the Articles of Confederation. And, remember, that was a great success.

Posted by: glewiss | September 23, 2009 4:01 PM | Report abuse

"Didn't the Dems successfully employ this exact strategy to kill the Bush Social Security reform?"

No. The GOP couldn't even get a bill out of committee on that one, because it was clear that their only way forward was to force the Dems into coming up with an alternative proposal that could be "compromised" out of existence while sharing the blame.

On healthcare, the GOP's clear intention is to water down a bill that ultimately none of them will vote for, leaving the Dems holding the bag.

Posted by: pseudonymousinnc | September 23, 2009 4:02 PM | Report abuse

Actually, Ezra, in the new NBC/WSJ poll, Obama's approval is down to 51%, and Congressional approval is down to 22%.

Ralph Nader's opinion of Obama:

"Weak. Waffling, wavering, ambiguous, and overwhelmingly concessionary."

The Republicans are not the problem.

Posted by: auntmo9990 | September 23, 2009 4:37 PM | Report abuse

The Republican agenda, destroy government, except as it pertains to handing out goodies to their clients, agribusiness subsidies, military contracts, etc.

I think Dems understand they have to produce or they are gone. And if they don't produce what we'll have is total break down of what health care system we have now, and we'll end up with 80% of the public demanding what seniors already have, Medicare single payer.

Posted by: cmpnwtr | September 23, 2009 4:56 PM | Report abuse

What everyone else said about Republicans not being interested in governance. For an excellent treatment of this theme, read Thomas Frank's "The Wrecking Crew."

Republicans have a long history doing exactly what Ezra says they are doing now. It's nothing new.

Kathy Kattenburg

Posted by: screwjob1 | September 23, 2009 4:57 PM | Report abuse

This is standard practice for the opposition party. Control of Congress doesn't change because voters fall in love with the opposition's ideas; it changes when they get sick of the majority.

Posted by: tomtildrum | September 23, 2009 5:35 PM | Report abuse

For those of us who can do math, we note that the Democrats have a large majority in the house, and a veto proof majority in the senate. And gosh, they have the presidency, too.

So if there's no governing going on, whose fault is it?

Here's a hint, for the slower people in the class: it's not the minority party.

Posted by: jarober | September 23, 2009 5:38 PM | Report abuse

Oh God, false equivalences again. The Democrats, when they were out of power, never sought to delegitimize government the way the Republicans are doing (show some examples if you have them). Trying to stall or block a bill is not the same as casting aspersions on the whole governing process. And BTW, there was no blockage of the Social Security bill because there never was a bill to block. Even Ezra can't resist the "the other side is just as bad" syndrome that pervades Beltway media. Maybe it's in their contract.

Posted by: TheFritoPundito1 | September 23, 2009 5:51 PM | Report abuse

When you can't win a battle that may be key to the war (think Stalingrad), some major rethinking is needed.

The Dems are TWO parties (progressive and "old Republican") and the Repubs are a third party that often gains POTUS power and less often (maybe never again, because of demographics) gains Congressional power.

Even if the GOP was silent, sucking their thumbs while saying NO, NO, NO on votes, the Dems can't govern either progressively or Blue Dog style. We have a three party system, but refuse to acknowledge it because state laws make a third party non-viable.

Since nobody outside the US is enough of a threat to have a nice war with us, and restructuring the Constitution to make governance possible by a majority of one vote is also impossible, it seems we have two choices:

1) an almost do nothing government (except stoke the accounts of big-player greedsters, civilian or military-industrial.

2) a nice hot civil war that lasts for long enough to kill most of the minority and corrects the mistake of amnesty that was granted the losers after Civil War I.

I like alternative 2 better as long as the greedsters are allied with the government-haters and can be taken out definitively. But maybe they stars and bars prevails? I've still got my passport (if it works).

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | September 23, 2009 6:12 PM | Report abuse

Makes one pine for a parliamentary style govt. that evolved from convention rather than assertion. In other words, going with what works rather than what's posited to work. How 'bout an evidence based Constitution, with changes recommended every ten years by a panel of independent "experts" and voted in by simple majority (and no veto)? Works for me.

Posted by: sblaisdell | September 24, 2009 11:17 AM | Report abuse

An almost do nothing government is what our founding fathers envisioned. Procedural delay and, here is an anachronism for you, enumerated powers were built into our constitution. I don't see much to choose from when the alternatives are Democrats funnelling money to their friends or the Republicans doing the same for a different set of friends.

Posted by: ChristopherGeorge | September 24, 2009 11:18 AM | Report abuse

A reform that mainly consists of handing out a magic coverage card and almost no attention to reigning in costs is fools gold. Did you miss 4 decades of refusing to reform Social Security because it would reelection?

Is it too confusing for you to grasp the massive waste and fraud that is Medicare will only increase with a Public Option? Are suggesting that ramming through bad legislation that neither Congress or the public understands is good policy?

I'm at a loss trying to understand why so many people think we have a coverage problem and not a coverage too expensive problem. Or that it's impossible that this legislation could make the problem worse.

It's jaw dropping stupid of people to think it would have been better served if this stuff just sails through with no discussion.


Posted by: aquaadverse | September 24, 2009 12:50 PM | Report abuse

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