Jim Messina broaches a provocative line

There’s been at least some discussion this year about the “sabotage” question — whether Republicans are deliberately hurting the country, holding back the economy on purpose, for the express purpose of undermining the Obama presidency. It is, to be sure, a provocative point, and many Democrats have steered clear of it.

But in recent months, the argument has gained mainstream traction, in part because GOP tactics demanded it. This led to a striking email, sent to the Obama for America list this afternoon, from Jim Messina, the campaign manager for Obama/Biden 2012. The message reads, in part:

“The U.S. Senate is supposed to vote on the American Jobs Act as early as tonight.

“It’s a bill that will put people to work immediately, and it contains proposals that members of both parties have said in the past that they’d support.

“But Senate Republicans want to block it. Not because they have a plan that creates jobs right now — not one Republican, in Congress or in the presidential race, does. They only have a political plan.

Their strategy is to suffocate the economy for the sake of what they think will be a political victory. They think that the more folks see Washington taking no action to create jobs, the better their chances in the next election. So they’re doing everything in their power to make sure nothing gets done.” [emphasis added]

The message goes on from there to talk about the merits of the White House jobs bill, urging recipients to call Capitol Hill. Regardless, this is, as near as I can tell, the first time anyone associated with the president has broached the sabotage question at all.

And that strikes me as rather remarkable.

At least Messina is in good company. Michael Cohen, a senior fellow at American Security Project, apparently following up on a discussion I launched last November, recently said, “We’re far past the point where there is reason to doubt that the GOP is purposely trying to harm” the economy.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), vice chairman of the Senate Democratic Conference, believes “some” Republicans “want the economy to actually fail” on purpose. Paul Krugman recently said in his column, “[I]t’s hard to avoid the suspicion that G.O.P. leaders actually want the economy to perform badly.” Eugene Robinson, a Pulitzer Prize winner, was recently asked whether it’s possible Republicans would sabotage the economy. “Well, let me be honest,” he said. “It has occurred to me that this is a possibility.” E.J. Dionne Jr., Dan Gross,David Frum, and Andrew Sullivan have all raised the same concerns.

A few months ago, Kevin Drum wondered 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.”

Given recent events — the debt-ceiling scandal, the GOP-driven downgrade, the Republican rejection of any efforts to boost the economy, the GOP leadership’s letter to Bernanke pleading with him to let the economy suffer, the repeated threats of government shutdowns, tonight’s death of the American Jobs Act — it appears all kinds of serious people are at least entertaining the possibility.

As a result, it at least seems like a question worthy of some debate. Given the circumstances, there’s ample reason for credible observers to at least ponder the possibility and ask Republican leaders for an explanation for their behavior.