It Is Indeed Morally Odious to Put Millions of Americans Through Harrowing Pain for Political Advantage

Yesterday, Ezra wrote a piece on a now-famous interview that Chris Rock did with Frank Rich. You should read the interview, it’s great. At one point, Rock floats the idea that President Obama would have received more credit for his efforts to fight the Great Recession if he had waited for a while after taking office before addressing the downturn.  As Rock says in this snippet:

“When Obama first got elected, he should have let it all just drop.

Let what drop?

Just let the country flatline. Let the auto industry die. Don’t bail anybody out. In sports, that’s what any new GM does. They make sure that the catastrophe is on the old management and then they clean up. They don’t try to save old management’s mistakes.”

Ezra spends most of the article making the case that this strategy would be a political loser, but first notes (correctly) that:

The big problem with this idea — which I’ve heard other liberals propose in the past — is it’s morally odious: it would have meant putting millions of Americans through harrowing pain in order to help Obama out politically.”

This is exactly right (well, I haven’t actually heard many liberals at all say this, but moving on); but we should remember that there really is a non-hypothetical set of policymakers who have precisely put millions of Americans through harrowing pain solely for their own political advantage: Republican members of Congress.

The entire reason why we remain far from fully recovered from the Great Recession today is fiscal austerity in the past three years. If we just followed the average path of public spending that characterized post-war recessions, we’d be fully recovered.

And what pushed the country onto the austerity path? Republicans in Congress exploiting the need to raise the statutory debt ceiling in the summer of 2011 and extorting deep cuts as the price of agreeing to not send the nation into default or something as bad.

This isn’t a shock—the entire Obama presidency has been characterized by Republicans in Congress fighting exactly those policies that would have pushed the economy to full recovery.

So, Klein is right-on in his admonition that this is grotesque, but we should be clear that Rock’s suggestion isn’t totally fanciful—there have been real-life politicians who have taken deliberate actions to make millions suffer for their own political advantage.