Vote Republican Or the Economy Gets It

Greg Sargent has a fine post today about how Scott Brown has picked up on the Romney campaign’s effort to spin a mendacious take on the “you didn’t build that” quote, making it a double lie by tying it back to Elizabeth Warren (whose actual words were being paraphrased by what the president actually said). Indeed, Greg puts his finger on the broader message that both Republicans are trying to send:

The whole ”didn’t build that” dust-up is important, because the larger falsehood on display here — that Obama demeans success — is absolutely central to the Republican case against Obama. The Republican argument — Romney’s argument — is partly that Obama’s active ill will towards business owners and entrepreneurs is helping stall the recovery, so you should replace him with a president who wants people to succeed.

What makes this “vote Republican or the economy gets it” tactic devilishly effective is that its major premise–Obama hates “job creators”–doesn’t have to be true to wreak political damage so long as its minor premise–if “job creators” think Obama hates them they’ll stop creating jobs–is credible. And so it all turns into what amounts to blackmail: people like Mitt Romney are not “confident” in Obama’s stewardship of the economy, and if they don’t get ther way in November, they’ll tank the economy. This is also the threat behind all the “fiscal cliff” talk: we’re being told the financial markets will panic if there’s any chance the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy will lapse or that Pentagon spending will be cut at the end of the year. Somehow or another, the prospect of a Republican victory that will lead to very deep federal spending cuts, reductions in consumer buying power, and the elimination of many thousands of public sector jobs isn’t said to be a problem.

Now this is a very, very old game, certainly as old as the threats issued by business leaders at the behest of Mark Hanna in 1896 that votes for William Jennings Bryan would lose employees their jobs, or the eternal threats of non-unionized companies that they’d rather close their doors than submit to the indignity of collective bargaining. In reality, companies stay in business and investors keep investing not because they have the elected officials they’d prefer, but because they are making money. With profits being at near-record levels (even with the apparent recent softening), I don’t think we are really in any danger of capitalists “going Galt” because their executives’ marginal tax rates went back up to where they were when they were also doing very well in the late 1990s, or because their vast moral worth is being underappreciated by Barack Obama or Elizabeth Warren.

Still, the more aggressively ideological business leaders won’t lose a dime by issuing threats, so they and their political allies will keep doing so, reinforcing the GOP’s many efforts to convince persuadable voters that somehow or other, their jobs or their nest eggs depend on a Republican victory in November.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.