Paul Krugman: Why the Republicans in DC Are About to Get Much More Dangerous

John Boehner was awful, or as Paul Krugman writes in Monday's column, "a terrible, very bad, no good speaker of the House. Under his leadership, Republicans pursued an unprecedented strategy of scorched-earth obstructionism, which did immense damage to the economy and undermined America’s credibility around the world."


The trouble is, Boehner was merely a symptom of a far worse strain in the Republican party that, with his exit, will be unleashed on us with even fuller fury.

Examples of Boehner and the party's awfulness are legion, but for economist Krugman, Boehner showed his hand in 2009, when newly inaugurated President Obama was trying to help ameliorate the recession that started under Bush. Krugman writes:

There was and is a strong consensus among economists that a temporary period of deficit spending can help mitigate an economic slump. In 2008 a stimulus plan passed Congress with bipartisan support, and the case for a further stimulus in 2009 was overwhelming. But with a Democrat in the White House, Mr. Boehner demanded that policy go in the opposite direction, declaring that “American families are tightening their belts. But they don’t see government tightening its belt.” And he called for government to “go on a diet.”

This was know-nothing economics, and incredibly irresponsible at a time of crisis; not long ago it would have been hard to imagine a major political figure making such a statement. Did Mr. Boehner actually believe what he was saying? Was he just against anything Mr. Obama was for? Or was he engaged in deliberate sabotage, trying to block measures that would help the economy because a bad economy would be good for Republican electoral prospects?

We’ll probably never know for sure, but those remarks set the tone for everything that followed. The Boehner era has been one in which Republicans have accepted no responsibility for helping to govern the country, in which they have opposed anything and everything the president proposes.

What’s more, it has been an era of budget blackmail, in which threats that Republicans will shut down the government or push it into default unless they get their way have become standard operating procedure.

Boehner may not have been the most extreme ideologue in his party (hardly something to crow about), but he fed and watered that extremism, according to Krugman as well as polytical analysts Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, whom he cites in their book It’s Even Worse Than You Think.

Krugman speculates that Boehner is out precisely because, despite all the obstructionist efforts, Obama managed to eke out a few victories, and the economy turned around just enough. Someone has to take the fall for that.  "Mr. Boehner is quitting because he found himself caught between the limits of the politically possible and a base that lives in its own reality," Krugman concludes. "But don’t cry for (or with) Mr. Boehner; cry for America, which must find a way to live with a G.O.P. gone mad."

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