Sunday, June 14, 2009

Republicans Play It Both Ways

Forget for a minute all the complexities of the bank and auto bailouts, the stimulus plan and even health reform.

The broad political debate around these issues is taking a very familiar turn. Each step by the Obama-led democrats to fix capitalism is met by a disapproving and disdainful rebuke by republicans.

There’s an obvious paradox here. It’s the republicans, after all, whose political identity is most directly linked to the success of free enterprise.

In some respects, the republicans have an advantage. They can criticize Obama every step of the way but, in the long-run will benefit by his success.

Conventional thinking gives FDR credit for saving capitalism and for enabling the enormous prosperity of the post-war period. If true, that means that the ideologues who took control of the economy in the Nixon / Reagan / Bush years could only exist because the capitalist system was salvaged by New Deal programs.

Today’s republicans know that they don’t have the votes or the clout to stop Obama even if they wanted to, which I don’t think they do. So they stake out their opposition. If the economy tanks, they can claim the cause as overregulation, excessive taxation and an administration butting in where it has no business. And if the economy recovers, they can say “but look at the price we paid.”

Some believe that the republicans are committing political suicide by rejecting Obama’s reforms. I’m not so sure. Over the next several years, we’re likely to see mixed economic results with the republicans playing both sides. While Obama-backers will recognize the contradictions, we know from experience that merely pointing out republican hypocrisy is not enough.

Let’s not fall into the trap of believing that our opponents are too inept to succeed or that their deceptions are so obvious that they won’t be taken seriously.

The leaderless republicans won’t stay that way. And it will be our side that will bear the burden, once again, of rescuing capitalism from the economic savages who can’t resist biting the hand that feeds them.

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