One of the Election’s Saddest Lessons: Obstruction Works


One of the saddest things about this election is that it thoroughly vindicated Mitch McConnell’s strategy of massive obstruction. Obama had a general faith that the Republicans would be punished for this tactic. In one sense Obama was right: the approval rating for Congress is 15 percent. But the Republicans who brought us this dysfunctional Congress just got much stronger. The strategy of making Congress a basket case led to more frustration against “the establishment.” It also worked in a few more specific ways:

The Supreme Court
It was an audacious gamble to block the Supreme Court appointment of a sitting president with a year left in his term. It worked. Instead of that ninth justice being chosen by a Democrat, he or she will be chosen by a Republican.

Obama proposed a massive infrastructure repair bill in 2015 in part as a way of creating more blue collar jobs for non-college educated Americans. It was blocked by the Republicans. Now Trump is proposing a version of the same thing; he’ll likely get it, along with the credit for finally helping the working man.

During the deliberation over the Affordable Care Act Democrats almost unanimously made the argument that a public option was needed to ensure that competition was sufficient. Without that kind of competition, premiums on the exchanges would certainly go up.  Paul Krugman wrote that the power of the government as bargaining agent would hold costs down and that “a public plan would probably provide the only real competition in many markets.” Republicans blocked that. Premiums went up, voters became frustrated — and the new Republican majority is planning to repeal Obamacare.

In general, they have been unwilling for eight years to fix the problems with the program on the theory that they shouldn’t repair a car they were about to ditch. That in turn increased frustrations with the program. The strategy worked brilliantly, and all it cost was millions of dollars out of the bank accounts of working Americans. But that’s a small price to pay given the political benefits.

Part of the blame does fall on the media, which often fell into the habit of referring to gridlock instead of obstruction. And part was a lack of creativity on the part of the Democrats to keep this issue front and center. (Did Hillary ever mention Republican obstructionism keeping Obamacare from being fixed?)

Sadly, those on either side would have to look at the past eight years and conclude that pouring coke into the gas tank was a shrewd strategy. Frustrated with Washington dysfunction, the voters have just rewarded the obstructionists.

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Steven Waldman is founder of, a platform for online memorials and life milestones. He's a Washington Monthly contributing editor, journalist and author.