Once Again: Heads You Lose, Tails I Win

At The Guardian, Harry Enten raises a point about the politics of the shutdown and debt limit that Democrats really must keep in mind: if Republicans succeed in taking actions that tank the economy, it’s not at all clear they will be the ones who suffer politically:

After the last go-round on the debt ceiling, the economy had started to pick up by the end of October 2011, and Obama’s approval rating followed. But the lesson for Democrats who may be thinking smugly that the Republicans will take the biggest hit for the federal shutdown and government default angst is that if the economy goes south as a result, then it’ll likely be the Democratic president who sustains the most damage.

Now it’s possible this situation could be the exception that proves the rule, so wanton have Republicans been about taking the federal government and the economy hostage. But Enten’s right: when the economy does poorly, the party controlling the White House tends to take the biggest hit, even if that phenomenon is both beyond its control and largely attributable to the opposing party.

It’s another reminder of the perils of our system of government at a time of asymmetric polarization: Republicans can act deliberately and unilaterally to screw up government in the reasonable belief a Democratic incumbent president and his party will ultimately lose support even if they do not objectively bear the blame.

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.