The incentive behind GOP obstructionism

At first blush, it’s tempting to think congressional Republicans are simply out of their minds to kill jobs bills during a jobs crisis. It seems insane — Americans are desperate for Congress to act; Americans overwhelmingly support bills like the one considered by the Senate last night; and yet GOP officials seem wholly unconcerned. Aren’t they afraid of a backlash?

Well, no, probably not. The reason probably has something to do with voters like Dale Bartholomew.

Now, my point is not to pick on one random voter quoted in an Associated Press article. He’s very likely a well-intentioned guy who’s simply frustrated with what’s going on in Washington. I certainly don’t blame him for that.

Consider, though, the significance of a quote like this one.

“If Romney and Obama were going head to head at this point in time I would probably move to Romney,” said Dale Bartholomew, 58, a manufacturing equipment salesman from Marengo, Ill. Bartholomew said he agrees with Obama’s proposed economic remedies and said partisan divisions have blocked the president’s initiatives.

But, he added: “His inability to rally the political forces, if you will, to accomplish his goal is what disappoints me.”

Got that? This private citizen agrees with Obama, but is inclined to vote for Romney anyway — even though Romney would move the country in the other direction — because the president hasn’t been able to “rally the political forces” to act sensibly in Washington.

That is heartbreaking, but it’s important — Republicans have an incentive, not only to hold the country back on purpose, but also to block every good idea, even the ones they agree with, because they assume voters will end up blaming the president in the end. And here’s a quote from a guy who makes it seem as if the GOP’s assumptions are correct.

It’s hard to say just how common this sentiment is, but it doesn’t seem uncommon. The public likes to think of the President of the United States, no matter who’s in office, as having vast powers. He or she is “leader of the free world.” He or she holds the most powerful office on the planet. If the president — any president — wants a jobs bill, it must be within his or her power to simply get one to the Oval Office to be signed into law.

And when the political system breaks down, and congressional Republicans kill ideas that are worthwhile and popular, there’s an assumption that the president is somehow to blame, even if that doesn’t make any sense at all. Indeed, here we have a quote from a voter who is inclined to reward Republicans, giving them more power, even though the voter agrees with Obama — whose ideas (and presidency) Republicans are actively trying to destroy.

As Greg Sargent, who first flagged the quote in the AP article, explained: “Voters either don’t understand, or they don’t care, that the GOP has employed an unprecedented level of filibustering in order to block all of Obama’s policies, even ones that have majority public support from Dems, independents and Republicans alike. Their reaction, in a nutshell, seems to be: The Obama-led government isn’t acting on the economy? Obama can’t get his policies passed? Well, he must be weak.”

The challenge for the president isn’t to teach Civics 101 to the populace; that would take too long. The task at hand is communicating who deserves credit for fighting to make things better, and who deserves blame for standing in the way.

Because if voters who agree with Obama are inclined to vote for Republicans because Republicans are blocking Obama’s ideas, then not only is 2012 lost, but the descent of American politics into hysterical irrationality is complete.