’64 or Bust

In a Bloomberg column, Ramesh Ponnuru makes an argument for Mitt Romney’s election that you are going to hear a lot more of soon: it’s the only way that partisan gridlock in Washington can be broken. The basic theory is that Republicans will not change from their current savage ideological course (which will actually get more savage if they lose this election they think themselves destined to win) and are very unlikely to lose enough congressional support to reduce their veto power over legislation. So if you want something new to happen, a President Romney and a Republican-controlled House and Senate (presumably using reconciliation to do whatever they want without Democratic support) are the only ticket.

Here’s Ponnuru’s response to those (including the President) who have suggested an Obama victory will humble Republicans:

Republicans famously failed to react to their drubbing in 2008 — after which, let’s recall, Time magazine was running cover stories on their impending extinction — by softening their line on anything. Why would they react that way after an election that goes better for them? Especially when they will be looking forward to the gains that the party out of the White House typically makes in midterm elections.

Not to mention the nomination of a real conservative, not some flip-flopping wimp like Romney, in 2016, eh?

So as a cap to four years of political hostage-taking, a final general election pitch from Republicans this year is to hold the next four years hostage as well: give us total power to begin implementing our agenda and start dismantling this silly, expensive New Deal/Great Society system and this European-style progressive tax code, or nothing at all happens. We’ll get our way eventually, so why not get started now?

This will be a seductive argument for certain elements of the “centrist” MSM commentariat. There’s a big piece up at Politico this very morning about how disillusioned political reporters are about the viciousness and pointlessness of this election cycle. When will the gridlock end, they implicitly ask, and the wondrous Washington romance of movers and shakers moving and shaking return? Before long, we’ll hear ostensibly “neutral” voices making the case for one-party government–Republican one-party government, as it happens–as an oasis of clarity and productive activity after all the nasty divisiveness we’ve experienced. For the history-minded, it may even start sounding a bit like the famous fatigue of the European elites about the weakness and pettiness of parliamentary democracy during the 1920s.

For the record, there’s at least one area of highly significant, powerful activity that will occur automatically if Barack Obama is re-elected, even if Republicans make congressional gains and convince themselves to go even crazier: the Affordable Care Act will be implemented, and 30 million or so Americans without health insurance will be covered, making the big step back towards “individual responsibility” for health care conservatives crave that much less likely. If everything the Wall Street folk like to tell us is true, the resolution the election will bring will also have a beneficial effect on markets. Even if there is no perceived “mandate,” the President’s hand will be greatly strengthened in the negotiations over how to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff.” And whatever they say, conservatives will have to accept that the Great Counter-Revolution they saw on the near horizon after 2010, which they’ve been pursuing since 1964, has receded into the distance once again.

But while that may be the reality, beware the hand-wringing talk down the home stretch of the Awful Specter of Still More Gridlock if Obama wins. It’s not really true, and in any event, there are worse things than gridlock so long as one of the two major parties will accept nothing short of total power.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.