It’s a conspiracy! In a stunning display of harmonic convergence, the right and the left have hit on the cause of the persistent malaise that afflicts the economy: a sinister plot to destroy the country, for selfish and partisan gain. That these plots exist is the fervent belief of the most intense partisans, who believe their opposite numbers are not only wrong, but know they are wrong, and forge ahead anyhow, indifferent to consequence. But what do they know, and how do they know it? Let us look deeper and see.
The theme on the left—that Republicans in Congress are voting against things they know will revive the economy—came to the fore a year ago, when it began to be clear that “recovery summer” would in fact mark a relapse, and that the 2010 midterms were coming up fast. On June 23, 2010, the Huffington Post reported, Democrats in the Senate failed to pass “a bill to help the poor, the old, and the jobless, despite making a series of cuts to the measure . . . to appease deficit hawks.” This rang a bell in the minds of some bloggers, who put two and two together and reached twenty-four. “It may be time for a discussion about whether GOP lawmakers are trying to deliberately sabotage the economy to help their midterm election strategy,” wrote the Washington -Monthly’s Steve Benen, who noted the fact that in some other context some Republicans had voted for similar cutbacks before. The plan was to prolong the recession and wait for the voters to take out their rage on the innocent president. “If conditions do worsen, many, many, many more Americans will blame Barack Obama for the bad state of things than will blame the Senate minority,” said Think Progress blogger Matthew Yglesias. “The intersection of a minority that’s empowered to obstruct and an electorate that holds the majority responsible for policy outcomes is toxic.”
This theme died down until after the Democrats’ thundering loss in the 2010 midterms, when it quite quickly sprang back to life. This time there were warnings that the mischief on view before the election was nothing compared to what we should expect to encounter as the 2012 season drew nigh. “I know that tangible improvements in the economy are key to Obama’s reelection chances,” said Yglesias. “Is it so unreasonable to think that Mitch McConnell and John Boehner may also know that it’s key? . . . McConnell has clarified that his key goal is to cause Barack Obama to lose in 2012, which . . . means doing everything in his power to reduce economic growth.” And the Republicans wouldn’t stop there. “National security experts are tearing their hair out over the decision of Senate Republicans to block a desperately needed new strategic arms treaty,” Paul Krugman lamented. “If sabotaging the president endangers the nation, so be it.”
“None dare call it sabotage,” Benen wrote on November 20, a strange comment as he himself had called it that a mere five months earlier. Apparently, the Republicans’ schemes had progressed from merely hoping conditions wouldn’t improve to making sure that they didn’t; from “rooting for failure” to more intense methods. “A major, powerful political party is making a conscious decision about sabotage,” he informed us. Why wasn’t the whole nation enraged?
Perhaps because the following month the Republicans cut a huge tax deal with the president that made him look good and bolstered his approval numbers for a time, edging them back to a tick over 50. The stirrings died down. Then the president’s numbers fell back, there was a new summer, again without a recovery, and suspicions revived. Where there was bad news, there had to be mischief and subterfuge. “Republicans . . . are opposing the economic recovery itself and all that means for America’s working- and middle-class families,” said Senator Charles Schumer. “There’s a lot to recommend what they’re saying,” mused MSNBC’s Jonathan Alter. “The evidence supports it.” What evidence? That may be what they thought they were seeing. But did what they said they were seeing actually exist?
Lest you think liberals are the only ones with a rich fantasy life, banish the thought from your mind. The right has its own set of theories in mind. Two months before the 2008 election, James Simpson warned in the American Thinker that Obama, should he be elected (following a plan laid down in 1966 by Richard Cloward and Frances Fox Piven), would collapse the capitalist system on purpose to build a social state in its place—a theory that has since found many echoes on the right.