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A GOP-Controlled Congress Would Be Very, Very Bad (Or: Why Jonathan Cohn Is Wrong)

I hate to disagree with Jonathan Cohn, but I think he used the wrong hashtag on his post about silver linings for liberals from a GOP landslide. Not #slatepitches. What he was looking for is #wishfulthinking. Or perhaps #betterdelusionsthancoldreality. I’m afraid that none of his three points really holds up. I’ll take them one by one:

1. It would flush Republicans out into the open, by forcing them to compose and defend detailed legislation.

It’s true that Republicans would have to write and vote for appropriations bills, and that would probably have to run them into some difficulties, given that some of their candidates will resist voting for any spending levels that Barack Obama is willing to sign. Beyond that, however...there’s no reason that Republicans would be “forced” to do much of anything. Yes, if Republicans pass their agenda of tax cuts and superficial spending cuts, the deficit would go through the roof. So? They’ll gladly compose and defend the tax cuts, and they’ll still claim that they’re all for cutting deficits, and Fox News (and conservative voters) will blame it all on Obama. 

Or, take health care. Liberals have pointed out that the GOP platform of repealing the individual mandate while (sort of) keeping ACA protections on such things as pre-existing conditions would be a policy hash if implemented. Again: So? From a conservative point of view, turning the ACA into a policy hash is a feature, not a bug. 

2. It would raise the profile of the party’s legislative leadership, particularly would-be Speaker John Boehner and would-be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. 

Here, I just disagree with Cohn’s political analysis. Yes, McConnell and Boehner are hacks. But I think both of them are pretty good politicians who have a much better understanding of their own limitations than Newt Gingrich did. Newt, helped by his success in taking credit for the surprise takeover of Congress in the 1994 landslide, was able to become a highly visible symbol of his party. Yet that’s hardly inevitable; in 2011 there will be plenty of Republican presidential candidates running around to grab the spotlight, and I’d expect McConnell and Boehner to readily cede it to them and to more telegenic Members of their conferences. (And, by the way, in Boehner vs. Gingrich for popularity, my money is on Boehner: Cohn says that Newt “gives a good speech and is sharp on television,” but he also was intemperate and didn’t know how to stick to talking points). 

That leaves

3. It would unite the Democratic caucus around a more coherent set of views and policies.

I don’t think Cohn’s heart is even in this one; there’s a lot of “could” and “might” in this section. And rightly so; any argument that relies on Democratic unity is going to be a tough one to believe. There’s a reason we all invoke Will Rogers so often. As I think Cohn realizes, the possibility of cooperation is just as likely to yield to a reality of liberals and moderates, the Hill and the White House, Washington and the grassroots, all blaming each other for the GOP landslide. 

I suppose I should try to find some good news for Democrats. It certainly is possible that Republicans will overplay their hand, making Cohn’s points a lot more relevant. And if the GOP draws the wrong lessons chooses to nominate Sarah Palin, Jim DeMint, or Mike Pence for president because 2010 “proves” that purism beats pragmatism at the ballot box, then they’ll make Barack Obama’s life a lot easier. But of course either of those things could happen even without GOP control of one or both Houses of Congress. No, really, there’s no escaping it: a GOP landslide would be just plain bad news for liberals. This one doesn’t really have a silver lining.