Are Republican leaders beginning to throw in the towel and position the party to continue obstruction during a second Obama term?
If so, what is the appropriate democratic response?
Full disclosure (notwithstanding my career in industry): I am a lifelong Progressive Democrat. Indeed, most of my colleagues in the paper and packaging industry think I am at best misguided, given my support for organized labor, higher marginal tax rates for high income people, elimination of the "carried interest" loophole, and public debunking of the foolish notion that another 3 or 4 points of income taxes on small business profits above $250,000 would suppress hiring.
The question I pose for consideration relates to a recent change in Republican dialogue. I believe we are witnessing the beginning of a concerted effort among the far right, both party leaders and commentators, to deny President Obama a victory even as he wins in November. If you listen closely to the chatter over the days since the Democratic Convention, followed by the Romney gaffe getting in and out of a support posture on Obamacare and his unprecedented politicization of our loss of life in Libya, they posit the idea that if Romney can't beat the president with the terrible record they claim he has, it has to be Romney's fault rather than the fatally flawed policies they advocate and the president's accomplishments and effective campaign. It appears they have written off the Romney campaign and are concerned that the substantial electoral majority I believe is forthcoming will be seen as a Mandate for the president's program during a second term. If they can discredit that presumption among their substantial minority they will have justified continued gridlock.
If you think it through, they are positioning themselves to make the case that their policies are the right prescription for America, that a flawed candidate handed the president an undeserved victory, and it is their duty to continue to obstruct any and all administration initiatives. This will come from the same quarters that have long questioned President Obama's very right to hold the office to which we elected him. The problem is these ideologues have terrorized a majority of Republican office holders, which in turn legitimizes the gridlock. The genius of their approach is they have found a way to govern from the minority -- simply make sure nothing happens.
The obvious solution to this charade is for Democrats to win a substantial majority in the House, increase our majority in the Senate and hand the Republicans the devastating Electoral College loss they have earned, along with a large plurality in the popular vote. If we can accomplish these goals, in the face of the enormous sums Republican super PACs are committing to key Senate and House races, President Obama will have the opportunity to finish righting our economic ship during a second term and position The Nation to meet our future with confidence.
What Happens If We Win?
That said, there is another component of this chess game we need to consider: the filibuster. I have questioned our Senate Leadership over the past few years about this feature, which I concede has served our country well over the course of many decades. But the value of this protection from "the tyranny of the majority" has almost always been forced compromise on the big issues of the day. With 67 (or more recently 60) votes required, the big things got done with partisan and regional compromise. I think it has become quite obvious the minority in the Senate has neither the appetite nor the courage to forge compromise. In consequence, the filibuster has become the tool of choice to block anything coming out of the House in support of the president's agenda or Democratic initiatives generally. I concede since the Republicans took the House they have needed it less, but we should not fool ourselves into believing a second term, with Democrats leading the House, would be any different. The solution is to change the rule when the new Senate convenes. We need the vice president and the leadership on board and we need party discipline. This change has been resisted by a number of senior Democrats who experienced the filibuster as it was designed to be used and who properly revere the Institution and it's traditions.
We can agree this is not a decision that should be taken lightly. However, I submit these are extraordinary times in which our politics has yielded uncompromising ideological divisions which threaten the very foundations of our democracy. The erosion of the middle class and with it the hope for a better tomorrow for our children, is leading us to a different place than that from which we came. Xenophobic hostility to immigrants is becoming acceptable public policy. Corporate welfare on a scale that would make the robber barons blush is defended as critical to our capitalist system. The degrading of our environment in pursuit of short term financial gain for the few is defended as necessary for job creation. The idea that private interests may spend unlimited sums to bend public policy to their private agenda is blessed by the highest court in the land. The list goes on, and all need not be repeated here to make the point that unprecedented challenges call for unprecedented actions.
The Action Plan
To summarize, we need to deploy adequate (not matching) sums to take back the House, an eminently doable task given the extreme positions taken by the Republicans in overplaying their hand from 2010. We need to defend our majority in the Senate and reorganize in 2013 without the filibuster. President Obama will deliver a crushing defeat to Romney because the he is an empty vessel pandering to a small minority of voters. Finally, in a second term, we have to abandon the search for compromise with a group that has publicly stated over and over again that they will not compromise and get on with the business of repairing the damage they did when in power and preparing our country for the challenges of the 21st century.