Washington's conventional wisdom for explaining the intensity of Republican obstructionism toward President Barack Obama breaks down one of two ways: either it's a philosophical disagreement over the role of government or a desperate need to stay in line with a radicalized right-wing base.
But there is another way to view the GOP political strategy, as neither principled nor reactive to the rantings of Tea Partiers, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh. It is that the Republicans are following a playbook that has evolved over more than four decades, to regain power by sabotaging Democratic presidents.
In this analysis, the Republicans believe they can reclaim the lucrative levers of national authority by making the country as ungovernable as possible while a Democrat is in the White House, essentially holding governance hostage until they are restored to power. Then, the Democrats are expected to behave as a docile opposition "for the good of the country" (and usually do).
The "destroy Obama" game plan tracks most closely with Newt Gingrich's strategy for undermining Bill Clinton 16 years ago. But today's strategy also traces back to Richard Nixon's sabotage of President Lyndon B. Johnson's Vietnam peace talks in 1968 and Ronald Reagan's October Surprise gambit against President Jimmy Carter's Iran hostage negotiations in 1980.
In all four cases covering the last four Democratic presidencies the Republicans did not behave as a loyal opposition but rather as a single-minded political enemy that viewed the White House as its birthright and Democratic control of the Executive Branch as illegitimate.
During the first years of Clinton's presidency, leading Republicans, such as Sen. Bob Dole, actually denounced President Clinton as a "pretender." They noted that Clinton gained the White House with less than a majority of the popular vote (because of the third-party run of Ross Perot).
Then, rather than accept Clinton as a legitimate president, the Republicans unleashed their newly minted right-wing media machine (much of it having been assembled during the Reagan-Bush-41 years with the help of conservative foundations and right-wing media moguls).
Magazines, such as The American Spectator, and newspapers, like the Washington Times and the Wall Street Journal, spread ugly rumors about the Clintons, while radio talk show hosts, such as Limbaugh and G. Gordon Liddy, filled the airwaves with hours and hours of Clinton-bashing.
In Congress, House Republican firebrand Gingrich whipped his party into line against Clinton's top legislative goals. For the first time, every Republican voted against the federal budget, which included tax increases to rein in the deficit that had surged to unprecedented levels under Reagan and Bush-41.
Meanwhile, the escalating anti-Clinton media assault drew in the Washington Post and the New York Times, which were determined to prove they could be tougher on a Democrat than any Republican and thus to shed once and for all the "liberal media" label.
By 1994, the Whitewater "scandal" about an obscure Clinton real-estate investment had become front-page news and a Republican-controlled judicial panel had picked former Reagan-Bush-41 appointee Kenneth Starr to head up an aggressive investigation into the Clintons' personal finances and later into their private life.
Back on Capitol Hill, Gingrich's "revolutionaries" rallied and railed against Hillary Clinton's ill-fated health-reform bill.
Across the countryside, the harsh language in Congress and the ugly accusations from talk radio fed into a right-wing paranoia. Armed militia groups began forming to resist the threat of "one-world government" and its "black helicopters" arriving from the United Nations to strip away American liberties.
Everyday, Americans were confronted with a level of disorder in their political system that they had not seen in decades and President Clinton took most of the blame for the government disarray.
Having covered CIA destabilization campaigns in Third World countries, particularly Nicaragua, I was struck by the similarities. In the 1980s, the Reagan-Bush-41 administrations destroyed Nicaragua's leftist Sandinista revolution by systematically making the country ungovernable via a combination of economic dislocations, political/media propaganda, and paramilitary activities.
Finally, in 1990, Nicaraguan voters faced with a choice of electing the U.S.-financed candidate Violeta Chamorro or suffering a continued U.S. economic embargo and a resumption of attacks by U.S.-supported contra rebels opted to accede to Washington's desires and voted for Chamorro.
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