The opposition party decides to oppose

THE OPPOSITION PARTY DECIDES TO OPPOSE…. The New York Times has a piece today on the Republican Party’s deliberate decision on the Hill to reject pretty much everything on the Democratic agenda thus far. As the congressional minority sees it, the strategy will pay electoral dividends.

Congressional Republicans … are certain that the politics are on their side. Dismissing Democrats’ attacks on them as “the party of no,” they point to polls and other signs indicating that high unemployment and deficits have created vast unease with Mr. Obama’s agenda as the 2010 midterm elections approach. […]

“I just don’t think that there’s a downside to voting no — I really don’t,” said Vin Weber, a former Republican congressman from Minnesota. “That’s quite aside from whether you should or shouldn’t, or whether the country needs it or doesn’t need it. The basic rule is you rarely pay a price at the polls for being against something.”

Republican incumbents “have far more to lose,” he said, “by having the Republican base conclude that they’re just throwing in the towel and compromising on a big-government agenda.”

This makes plenty of strategic sense. Republicans want to motivate their base, and their base doesn’t want to see the GOP cooperate with Dems. There’s also a basic calculus at play — if President Obama and his congressional allies succeed, voters are likely to reward Democrats anyway. Better to oppose and obstruct, and then hope for the best (or, in this case, hope for those in power to fail).

The NYT‘s Jackie Calmes added that the Republican strategy on this exposes the party “to criticism that they have become political obstructionists with no policy agenda of their own. And that could keep them from extending their appeal to the centrist voters who are essential to rebuilding the party’s strength nationally.”

Perhaps, but the GOP seems willing to take the risk. The hope is that frustrated voters will just oppose the majority, regardless of whether Republicans have been intellectually-stunted obstructionists with no ideas of their own. For all I know, that may very well work.

But here’s the point that the article overlooks: the more Republicans adopt an attitude of “whatever it is, we’re against it,” the less reasonable it is to expect the White House to forge bipartisan majorities. The minority is the opposition party, which is, as its name implies, supposed to oppose what the majority wants. What’s wrong with that? Nothing.

But there’s something very wrong with the idea that the president and/or his allies are somehow failing in their responsibilities if they come up short on convincing those who don’t want to be convinced, and prefer a scorched-earth strategy to constructive cooperation.