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Cover Story

Big Red Lies

Does democracy stand a chance against the Republican Party's dishonest strategy?

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All of this was wholly unnecessary, and in fact, counterproductive. Job growth slowed to a trickle. Standard & Poor's downgraded the country's credit rating. More importantly, as federal funds dried up, state and local governments laid off teachers, cops and firefighters: Public sector employment under the Obama administration has declined nearly 3 percent. At this point in the Reagan administration, public sector jobs had grown 3.1 percent. Three and a half years into George W. Bush's tenure, public sector employment had grown 4 percent.

Those are facts. But Democrats nonetheless spent the better part of 2011 cowering in fear of a new, ideologically pure Republican House. It took until nearly the end of the year for Obama to realize that people – at least those outside the Beltway circle-jerk – didn't give a damn about the debt in the middle of an economic crisis. And so we got a speech before Congress and the American Jobs Act in September 2011. But by then, with the election in full swing and Republicans still committed to stymieing anything the president put forward, it was dead on arrival.

That is, in a sense, the story of why this election is close. The Republicans' commitment to total victory was so ironclad that, even before Obama's first day in office, GOP congressional leaders were demanding of their rank and file unanimous, unbending opposition to anything he did, even if, as in the cases of cap and trade and health care reform, the president's proposals borrowed what were originally Republican ideas.

Meanwhile, the economy limped along, and the optimism that accompanied Obama's 2008 election dissipated into apathy, then to discontent, then to anxiety, battered by a recovery that felt like anything but.

Still, if you're a bettor, Obama's an odds-on favorite to win reelection. But then what?

Obama argues that if he wins, the Republican "fever" will break, and sanity and cooperation will prevail. There's absolutely no reason to believe he's correct. For one thing, the sociological evidence tells us that

America is increasingly polarizing, and elections are now just as often fought in ideologically rigid primaries as they are in November's contests. For another, obstruction worked. The Republicans took back the House, and might take the Senate this year. There's no incentive for Republicans to accommodate the president – or, for that matter, for congressional Democrats to accommodate a President Romney.