The Mullahs of Washington
The Republican argument for using your vote to punish Republicans.
Photo by Yuri Gripas/AFP/Getty Images.
In recent days, some newspapers and pundits have made one last pitch for Mitt Romney’s election. The key question, they argue, is which presidential candidate can work with the Republicans who control Congress. Obama has tried but has been rebuffed. Only Romney can get the job done.
"If Obama wins re-election, the Republican Party will react by moving right, not left. It will become less likely to compromise with Obama … Republicans, especially at the grassroots level, would react to Obama’s re-election by assuming that Romney failed because he was too moderate. … [T]hey will be looking forward to the gains that the party out of the White House typically makes in midterm elections. The Republicans aren’t going to change."
If Obama is re-elected, Brooks warns,
"The first order of business would be the budget deal, averting the so-called fiscal cliff. Obama would first go to Republicans in the Senate and say, 'Look, we’re stuck with each other. Let’s cut a deal for the sake of the country.' He would easily find 10 Republican senators willing to go along with a version of a Grand Bargain. Then Obama would go to the House. He’d ask Eric Cantor, the majority leader, if there were votes for such a deal. The answer would probably be no. Republican House members still have more to fear from a primary challenge from the right than from a general election challenge from the left. … [Romney] has more influence over the most intransigent element in the Washington equation: House Republicans. He’s more likely to get big stuff done."
Several astute skeptics—Kevin Drum, Steve Benen, Ezra Klein, Eliot Spitzer—point out that this argument rewards intransigence. They’re right. But it also defies what Republican congressional leaders believe about conflict management. The most effective way to change the behavior of an intransigent opponent, according to these Republicans, isn’t conciliation. It’s confrontation and intimidation.
Take Eric Cantor, the guy who, in Brooks’ scenario, would deep-six Obama’s second-term overture. Two years ago, Cantor ridiculed Obama for sucking up to Russia, Iran, Syria, and the Arab world:
The problem with the Obama defense and foreign policy philosophy is that it seems to abandon the proven strategy of peace through strength. … In this view, our most vexing issues can be resolved by adjusting our own behavior in order to compromise with our enemies. … If Iran wants to threaten the world with nuclear weapons, so it goes, it must be because President Bush refused to engage with it. And if Syria endangers our troops in Iraq and funds Mideast terrorism, we should somehow offer it more carrots and less sticks to convince it to change. The problem is that this kind of accommodating attitude toward our enemies never works.
“U.S. calls for dialogue only strengthened Tehran’s hand,” Cantor scoffed, and “playing nice has failed to peel Syria away from Iran.” Obama’s attempt to “placate Russia” achieved nothing, as did his trip to Cairo “to apologize on behalf of America.” Around the world, Cantor concluded, “a perception of weakness and irresolution has emboldened America's enemies.”
Cantor’s ostensible boss, House Speaker John Boehner, takes a similar view. “Every time we make a concession to countries acting against our national interests,” Boehner argued two years ago, “we pay a price.” In defying American entreaties, he reasoned, Iran’s leaders were simply following a “cost-benefit analysis.” Likewise, Boehner warned last year that Russia was exploiting two years of “American outreach and American engagement” to expand its “sphere of influence.”
Will Saletan covers science, technology, and politics for Slate and says a lot of things that get him in trouble.