Do Conservatives Really Want to Shed the “Block-and-Blame” Label?

Isaiah J. Poole

It is, as our co-director Robert Borosage pointed out this week, ludicrous on its face. House Republicans, coming out of their weekly caucus on Wednesday, started touting their latest slogan, “the change you deserve,” and they are being virtually laughed out of the room.

In the meantime, Republicans are engaging in a degree of hand-wringing that hasn’t been seen in the party since the post-Watergate days. National Republican Campaign Chairman Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., was quoted in Politico:

“A large segment of the American public doesn’t have confidence in the Republican Party to deal with the issues in front of us. What we have to do is look in the mirror a bit and ask how we lost our way.”

Well, Mr. Cole, maybe conservatives like you might learn how to say “yes” to what the American people want rather than continue your obstructionist, block-and-blame strategy.

To take just one example, you and House Minority Leader John Boehner could have worked more cooperatively with Democrats last week on a mortgage relief bill. House Banking Committee chairman Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., has been getting mainstream media kudos for bending over backwards to listen to the Bush administration and find common ground. Yet, when the final legislative package went to the House floor last week, it was met with a veto threat from President Bush and stubborn rejection from a majority of House Republicans.

Washington Post columnist Steven Pearlstein’s take on what happened fits the block-and-blame narrative:

Why the House Republican leadership decided to oppose the bill remains a mystery. The most charitable explanation was that it ran afoul of its free-market ideology. The more likely explanation is that it understood that the economy had become the most salient political issue in the coming election, and it was determined to deny the Democrats who control Congress the chance to show they had done something about it.

Whatever the reason, Republicans leaders were apparently successful in pressing the White House to stop negotiating with Frank and oppose the legislation. Suddenly, Treasury officials who had signed off on the portions of the bill dealing with Fannie (Mae) and Freddie (Mac, the two major mortgage financing institutions) began raising new objections. And the White House announced that President Bush would veto the bill, calling it a bailout for speculators and lenders and complaining, alternatively, that it would not help many homeowners and that it would cost far more than the estimated $2.5 billion over five years.

At the time of this writing, a decent mortgage relief compromise might yet get past the conservative naysayers in the Congress and past the biggest naysayer of all, George W. Bush. But conservatives still show few signs of realizing that they are paying the price for a strategy of obstruction that, after Democrats took control of the Congress in 2006, they deliberately and systematically followed.

Even the memo House Republican leaders sent to their members on Tuesday is stuck in block-and-blame-ism, accusing the Democrats of “promises made, promises broken” when, in fact, dozens of bills passed by the House Democratic majority have been snagged in the Senate by an obstinate Republican minority.

The Republicans are right about one thing in that memo: “This has to change. It must change.” But that change will have to start with conservatives recognizing that the American public is not interested in more of their government-off-your-back-and-into-my-pocket ideology. Americans want an economy that offers them a fair chance to prosper, and since conservatives have had their chance to bring that about and have failed, they should get out of the way.

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