When Barack Obama was sworn into office on January 21, 2009, the country was in the midst of the Great Recession. Credit markets were frozen and the economy was shedding about 800,000 jobs per month. Businesses were shutting down while people all over the country were losing not just their livelihoods, but their homes as well.
The reason it is important to keep that in mind is because it was at that point that Republicans decided that they would become the party of “no.” Michael Grunwald documented that decision. He wrote about meetings led by House GOP Whip Eric Cantor and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell “in which they laid out their daring (though cynical and political) no-honeymoon strategy of all-out resistance to a popular President-elect during an economic emergency.”
“If he was for it,” former Ohio Senator George Voinovich explained, “we had to be against it.”… [Cantor] was afraid that if the Democrats managed to pick off two or three Republicans, they’d be able to slap a “bipartisan” label on the bill…
Republicans recognized that after Obama’s big promises about bipartisanship, they could break those promises by refusing to cooperate. In the words of Congressman Tom Cole, a deputy Republican whip: “We wanted the talking point: ‘The only thing bipartisan was the opposition.’ ”
In other words, the Republicans prioritized a talking point over their responsibility to the public. They didn’t just obstruct what Democrats proposed, they sat on their asses and didn’t offer any constructive alternatives. It was, indeed, one of the most cynical moments in American politics.
A little more than eleven years later, this country is once again in crisis. But this time, we have a Republican president and Democrats are making a very different decision. As we’ve seen, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has taken the reins and passed two major bills to tackle this crisis. Both of them got through the Senate (with only Republicans voting against them) and were signed by the president.
Congress is now in the process of putting together a third bill to respond specifically to the economic crisis resulting from the coronavirus. Trump has gone into panic mode and, while not providing any leadership himself, seems to be willing to agree to almost anything. Meanwhile, Senate Republicans are meeting behind closed doors to come up with their proposal and Democrats are airing numerous plans and ideas.
We don’t know yet how those negotiations will pan out. But one thing is clear: Democrats are doing the exact opposite of what Republicans did during the Great Recession. Regardless of how it reflects on the opposition, they are going all-in on doing whatever is necessary to help the American people. That’s because their number one priority is to do their jobs, rather than to simply show allegiance to talking points as part of a power game.
I can’t think of a more perfect example of the fact that both sides don’t do it. This would be a great time for the media to recognize that and actually say it out loud.