The Political Passive Voice

| Mon Jul. 5, 2010 10:34 AM PDT

Jay Newton-Small:

Remember how Jim Bunning blocked those unemployment benefits in March and everyone was outraged? Then when Tom Coburn did it in April, the outrage was a little less? With voter worries about deficit spending mounting, Republicans are now seeing benefits to blocking the extension of unemployment benefits unless they are paid for. Meanwhile, the GOP "obstructionism" continues to ignite the Democratic base. But while both parties see political gains ahead of the midterm elections, 1.3 million people are losing their only source of income this Independence Day.

It's easy to see how Republicans gain from this, and it really has little to do with "voter worries about deficit spending mounting." Last night we had some friends over for the 4th and I got to talking with one of them about politics. He's a conservative-leaning guy, but he was pretty upset about the unemployment situation. "Congress just took off for the holidays leaving this mess behind," he stewed. We went on to agree that everyone hates Congress. Its approval rating is somewhere between that of pedophile priests and Osama bin Laden.

But that's as far as it went: Congress. Not Republicans. Just "Congress." And that's why obstructionism works so well for them. Partisans are partisans and are going to hate the other party no matter what. But then there's the vast middle ground of people who lean one way or the other but don't spend all day reading blogs or listening to talk radio. And as long as they view the problem as "Congress," that's bad news for whoever's in charge at the moment.

Ben Nelson aside, there's not much question which party is holding up unemployment benefits. You know it, I know it, reporters know it, and political junkies of all stripes know it. But lots of people don't. They see a headline that says "Congress Adjourns Without Acting on Unemployment" and they don't read much further. Every time that happens, it's a big win for the GOP. And it happens a lot.

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