There's a question that Democrats have been asking amongst themselves lately. Are Republicans trying to filibuster the economy into a double-dip recession just to prevent a second term for Barack Obama? Or do they really believe Greek-style austerity is the way to fix the economy?
The real answer is, of course, "all of the above." The modern Republican Party wants nothing more than to defeat Barack Obama, and you don't even need to take my word for it. Said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-19th century): "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president." Even with McConnell's bald-faced admission of obstruction at all costs, surely only hardcore Democrats, Bill Maher and Occupy Wall Street campers believe Republicans were capable of such perfidy, right?
Wrong. According to a recent Democratic poll paid for by a labor union and a liberal blog, 49% of all registered voters believe the Republican Party is "intentionally stalling efforts to jumpstart the economy," down a tick from when they asked the same question in November.
This doesn't preclude the possibility that Republicans sincerely believe in austerity, the belief that the way out of a famine is to plant fewer seeds. It's possible that Senate Republicans -- who are effectively controlling our economy by abusing the filibuster -- believe that government spending is impeding our recovery from a recession caused by the private sector. As dumb as it sounds, Republicans might really think that the way to fix a jobs crisis is to eliminate government jobs.
If that were true, then Mitt Romney would have said it, which of course he did. Speaking about Obama's evil Keynesian intentions, Romney said, "He says we need more fireman, more policeman, more teachers. Did he not get the message of Wisconsin? The American people did. It's time for us to cut back on government and help the American people." And you know that he meant it because Romney later went on Fox to deny he meant what he said. In fact, he claimed that to interpret his words literally was "completely absurd." Romney might have a point about judging him by what he says. The man opens his mouth, and Mitt happens.
Instead, we could judge Romney by what he did in Massachusetts. As governor, Romney tried to strip firefighters of their collective bargaining rights, putting him to the right of Scott Walker, the union-bashing governor of Wisconsin.
Or we could listen to Romney's surrogates. Former Hew Hampshire Gov. John Sununu defended the Republican nominee by saying, "The taxpayers really do want to hear there will be fewer teachers." And former Republican frontrunner Newt Gingrich summed up the sacrifices required by Romney's education policies with this comforting ditty: "Does that mean there will be fewer teachers? The honest answer is yes," he told CNN's John King. So maybe it's not "completely absurd" to take Romney literally.
And then there's R. Glenn Hubbard, a Columbia Business School professor and Romney advisor, who didn't let a little thing like the water's edge stop him from attacking the president's call for stimulus spending on jobs. Hubbard wrote in a German newspaper that Romney preferred to focus on "long-term confidence in solid government financing" at the expense of "short-term business promotion" -- in other words, more real pain now for the ephemeral gain of confidence later.
The funny thing about Republicans calling for austerity is that their obstruction has, in effect, given us austerity. Already 600,000 public sector jobs have evaporated, including thousands of teachers, firefighters and police officers, as well as garbage collectors, park rangers and other Socialist bureaucrats. As a result, federal spending under Obama is rising at a slower rate than at any point in the last 60 years. We've slashed government jobs by the hundreds of thousands. Spending has ground to a halt. And still the economy is threatening to stall.
The GOP has a gun to our heads, demanding changes that have already taken place but aren't working, making it likelier Romney will win and further implement what already isn't working. God bless Amercia. Republicans might think that protecting tax cuts for the rich and that cutting spending for the rest of us will both help the economy in the long term and hurt Obama in the short term, but Americans are the collateral damage in their game of austerity roulette.