A recipe for failure

Looking back over the last several months, after Americans rewarded Republicans in the 2010 midterms, we’ve seen quite a few policies intended to affect the economy. Extension of Bush-era tax breaks? Check. Wind down on stimulus spending? Check. Budget deal that cut spending? Check. Debt-ceiling deal that cut spending even more? Check. States and municipalities forced to cut back and fend for themselves? Check. Taking the nation’s full faith and credit hostage, inviting default, and causing a downgrade? Check.

This checklist, when considered against the deteriorating job market and anemic growth, leads me to ask three questions: (1) Who thinks the Republican economic agenda is making things better? (2) Why are Republicans complaining so much about their policies not working? And (3) Who in their right mind would blame President Obama for the performance of the Republican agenda?

On that last one, we know the answer. GOP leaders, some of whom thought Republicans deserved credit for the economy in April, are only too pleased to pretend Obama deserves the blame for conservative policies now.

But anyone who believes this garbage is fooling themselves. About a month ago, Kevin Drum had an item that still resonates.

2001-2008: Republicans run economy into ditch.

2008: Obama elected.

2009-2011: Republicans respond by doing everything possible to prevent him from fixing things.

2012: Republicans use lousy economy as campaign cudgel against Obama.

2012: Republican candidate wins presidency (maybe).

Arguably one of the most dramatic Democratic dilemmas of 2011 and 2012 is overcoming the realization that Republicans are getting their way on economic policy and then denying any responsibility for the results. Indeed, it’s a rather extraordinary con: GOP officials see much of their agenda implemented, then see it fail, and then blame Obama when their policies don’t work.

Under ideal circumstances, the president would come up with an economic plan and execute it. If the agenda succeeded, he’d get the credit. If it faltered, Republicans would call him on it. Voters could evaluate the results and decide whether to keep the president around or go back to GOP economic policies.

But those circumstances are nowhere to be found. Rather, we’re stuck looking in this funhouse-mirror in which Republicans block Democratic economic policies, and then condemn the policies for failing. Worse, as Adam Serwer recently noted, these same GOP officials are “actively pursuing policies that make the problem worse, and then attacking the president for the results.”

For most Americans, this level of substantive detail is invisible. They know Obama’s the president; they know the economy stinks; they know there’s a lot of arguing going on in Washington, but they have no idea who’s right and who’s wrong. They can’t count on major media outlets to help sort things out — reality has a well known liberal bias — and they’ll hear a lot of reporting about how “both sides” are always to blame for everything.

But for those who are sincere in wanting to know who’s responsible for the economic mess, the truth is painfully obvious.