The politics of misery

    Here’s the gist of the 2011 Republican jobs plan, courtesy of Mitch McConnell in 2010: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term President.” The single most important thing…there it is, folks. Rendering Obama jobless is their top priority, and they figure they can pull it off by ensuring that our 14 million idled Americans stay jobless between now and November ’12. The last thing they want to see is a cut in the jobless rate and stories about Americans going back to work. The more miserable everyone is, the better chance they have of achieving their single most important thing.This fundamental truth, this willingness to treat jobless Americans as collateral damage in the pursuit of political gain, was on vivid display on Tuesday, when Senate Republicans acted in ideological unison to obstruct Obama’s jobs bill. Actually, what they did was worse than that. They didn’t vote as a bloc to kill the jobs bill itself; rather, they voted as a bloc to prevent the jobs bill from even being discussed in the first place.I won’t bore you with a reiteration of the Senate filibuster rules. The upshot is, Republicans suppressed debate on a jobs bill that would have shaved one percent off the jobless rate (according to economists), added two percentage points to GDP growth in 2012, and added as many as 1.9 million jobs (according to economists). Among other things, this bill would have put idled construction workers back on the job, repairing bridges, roads, and schools; it would have helped local governments to retain cops, firefighters, and teachers; it would have extended jobless benefits; it would have cut payroll taxes – but the Republicans didn’t want the Senate to talk about any of that. Helping America is clearly no help to them.The big question is whether they’ll pay a political price in 2012 for their muzzling of progress in 2011. On paper, they would appear to be vulnerable. According to the newly released NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll, 63 percent of Americans support the key planks of the Obama jobs package. Moreover, the key funding proposal that Republicans deem most odious – a surtax on the rich – wins raves from 64 percent of Americans. In other words, the Obama jobs bill is in the mainstream, whereas the Republicans are not. (As for the House Republicans, they won’t even bring up the jobs bill at all; this week, they were too busy with far more urgent national issues, notably abortion.)The White House also thinks the GOP is vulnerable on the jobs front. Obama is on the stump every day – and will be again next week – hammering at the Republicans for essentially putting party ahead of country. Since Obama can’t actually pass anything to materially alleviate the misery, he figures there is mileage to be gained by calling out those who are bent on sustaining the misery. And it’s not as if the Republicans have any fresh ideas of their own. As evidenced again last Tuesday night, in the latest debate, the presidential candidates talk only about “less regulation” and “less government,” the kind of empty buzz phrases that would fit on Sarah Palin’s palm. The flavor of the moment, in what supposedly passes for a jobs plan, is Herman Cain’s regressive “9-9-9,” which would lower the tax burden on the rich. Hey, there’s a swell idea. George W. Bush and his Republican Congress already tried that one, yet Bush left office with the worst job creation record of any president dating back to Truman.Nevertheless, the GOP clearly believes that its obstructive behavior on jobs will be boffo at the ballot box. How is that possible? Because they’re calculating that voters will skip the fine print and basically blame the bad economy on Obama. He’s the president, after all, so he takes the hit. The thinking is, if the economy is still in the tank 13 months from now, swing independents won’t remember anything the congressional Republicans did (or didn’t do) 13 months earlier. Which would free them up to vote against their own economic self interest. Which would enable the Republicans to achieve their most important thing.Sounds like a plausible scenario to me.The counter-scenario was offered this morning in The New York Times, courtesy of a letter to the editor. An angry Kentuckian contended that the Republicans, thanks to their jobs bill opposition, might “lose big in 2012. Voters all over America are much smarter than Republicans give them credit for.”It’s always nice to start the day with a hearty laugh.——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

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