Check out the classic passive-voice argument Mitt Romney used in his "closing argument."
Romney said that Obama "promised to be a post-partisan president, but he became the most partisan" and that his bitter relations with the House GOP could threaten the economy. As his chief example, he pointed to a crisis created entirely by his own party's choice -- Republican lawmakers' ongoing threat to reject a debt ceiling increase. Economists warn that a failure to pass such a measure would have immediate and catastrophic consequences for the recovery.
"You know that if the President is re-elected, he will still be unable to work with the people in Congress," Romney said. "He has ignored them, attacked them, blamed them. The debt ceiling will come up again, and shutdown and default will be threatened, chilling the economy."
Hmm. It's inevitable that the debt ceiling will need to be raised again sometime soon, just as it's been several dozen times over the last several decades. But this time, default "will be threatened," and even having the conversation undermines the economy and rattles markets around the globe.
But why did Romney stick with the passive "will be threatened"? Because he doesn't want to explicitly say what we already know: it will be his congressional Republican allies doing the threatening.
At a certain level, this may seem vaguely amusing, but it's worth appreciating how truly extraordinary this kind of rhetoric is. Indeed, there is no precedent in the American tradition for this style of extortion politics -- Romney's closing argument is that his own congressional allies are so hopelessly insane, they're prepared to destroy the full faith and credit of United States of America, on purpose. If we want to prevent disaster, the only way to stop the hostage takers from pulling the proverbial trigger is to give Republicans power, because there's no way GOP lawmakers will work with the democratically elected president.
This is, for lack of a better word, madness.
I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, but the normalization of extortion politics really isn't healthy. We talked a bit about this last week -- Ramesh Ponnuru argued in September that congressional Republicans "aren't going to change," they're not going to compromise, and they'll continue to make the nation ungovernable if President Obama wins, so voters might as well give the GOP what it wants. David Brooks has made a similar case.
Even David Frum is buying into the argument.
The congressional Republicans have shown themselves a destructive and irrational force in American politics. But we won't reform the congressional GOP by re-electing President Obama. If anything, an Obama re-election will not only aggravate the extremism of the congressional GOP, but also empower them: an Obama re-election raises the odds in favor of big sixth-year sweep for the congressional GOP -- and very possibly a seventh-year impeachment. A Romney election will at least discourage the congressional GOP from deliberately pushing the US into recession in 2013.
With all due respect to David, I hope the political world considers the system of incentives conservatives are suggesting with this line of thought. In this scenario, congressional Republicans are presented as dangerous children, hell bent on destruction, who can't be reasoned with. It's incumbent on the electorate, then, to give these children exactly what they want, so as to prevent them from throwing a violent tantrum that hurts everyone around them.
This is crazy. It would reward Republicans for their radicalism -- which in turn only encourages more radicalism -- and set a precedent for all future congressional caucuses: if you really want to get your way, be irrational, inflexible, and dangerous, threatening to do lasting damage to the country unless your unconditional demands are met.
Maybe if we pay the reckless hostage takers, they'll be nice to us and stop taking hostages in the future? Is this what American politics has come to the 21st century?
For Romney to subtly articulate this argument out loud is breathtaking. For the political world to simply accept it at face value, as if this is routine, is depressing.