Taking stock of ‘brute facts’

E.J. Dionne Jr. today walks right up to a line I’ve approached myself on occasion.

For the moment, Republicans have no interest in moving the nation’s debate toward investments in job creation because they gain twice over from keeping Washington mired in discussions on the deficit. It’s a brute fact that Republicans benefit if the economy stays sluggish.

Dionne’s choice of words is a little coy — I suspect deliberately so — but the underlying message is worth considering, even if it’s provocative. Republican policymakers have an enormous influence on economic policy at the federal level, and under the current circumstances, and it’s at least possible, the argument goes, that GOP leaders are using their power in a deliberately destructive way with electoral considerations in mind.

Kevin Drum wonders whether this will ever be “a serious talking point,” adding, “No serious person in a position of real influence really wants to accuse an entire party of cynically trying to tank the economy, after all.”

That’s clearly true. As I’ve been reminded more than once after writing items like this one, it’s considered beyond the pale to discuss motives in debates like these. There’s nothing wrong with saying, “Republican economic policies would be disastrous for the economy.” But one tends to get in trouble for saying, “Republican economic policies would be disastrous for the economy — which may be why Republicans are pursuing them.”

But that’s why I find it all the more interesting when credible, well-grounded figures raise the argument at all. E.J. Dionne is known for being a responsible center-left voice, not an unhinged partisan bomb-thrower, and he came close to the “sabotage” argument in his column today. A few months ago, his Washington Post colleague, Eugene Robinson, conceded on national television that “maybe” the Republican approach to the budget “is to depress economic growth to set up the Republican Party for 2012, so people will be angry with President Obama and maybe elect a Republican.” Robinson, incidentally, is a Pulitzer Prize winner, not some wild-eyed activist.

And reader J.S. alerted me to these recent comments from Daniel Gross, a former senior editor at Newsweek and now an economics editor at Yahoo, who also argued that it’s at least possible that some congressional Republicans are pursuing a destructive economic policy on purpose. Indeed, Gross suggested it’s practically common sense: Republicans believe they will benefit from a weak economy, so it “stands to reason” that the party “would engineer policy to get that outcome.”

Gross added that there’s “an element” of the Republican Party “that just wants to blow stuff up.”

To Kevin’s point, I haven’t seen any Democratic officials willing to go this far, at least in public, probably because the accusation would cause a significant firestorm.

But there appears to be a growing number of credible voices who at least consider this a topic worthy of conversation.