The last couple of years, Republicans have argued repeatedly — and passionately — that the lack of predictability and confidence could drag down the fragile economic recovery.
The theory goes that if business owners and investors don’t have a clear picture of where policy-makers are going in Washington DC, they won’t brave an already nervous climate with their dollars.
Uncertainty is the enemy.
Yet now the GOP is taking a hard-line stand on tax hikes for the wealthiest Americans, staking out a position that increases for those earning more than $250,000, returning them to 1990s levels, is a non-starter.
(Correction: Obama’s latest compromise offer only raises taxes on income over $400,000 per year.)
Obviously, every political movement is free to carve out their own ideological ground.
In this case, Republicans are rejecting an offer from Democrats that would preserve the vast majority of Bush-era tax cuts.
The compromise deal offered by Mr. Obama would also forestall sweeping and clumsily-conceived cuts to government programs, while making at least some down payment on the kind of larger cuts that will eventually be necessary.
It’s also a deal that a clear majority of Americans support, according to consistent opinion surveys.
Let’s be clear. There is no doubt that accepting the deal would represent a harrowing political defeat for Republican leaders.
That is a steep price for conservatives to pay, especially so soon after the bruising 2012 campaign.
But set against those institutional and ideological priorities is a level of uncertainty and fear which our economy hasn’t experienced since 2008.
It’s also worth pointing out that sometimes political parties lose big battles. In the decades after Ronald Reagan’s 1980 victory, Democrats have been taken to the woodshed again and again on some of their biggest priorities.
They gave up ground, they accepted setbacks — without ever drawing lines in the sand that wagered the nation’s prosperity and reputation against a single issue or defeat.
The beauty of democracy is that you can lose big battles and still recover and rebuild and perhaps prevail in the larger debate.
The stakes now are remarkably high. If this impasse tanks the economy again, hundreds of thousands of American lives will be impacted.
Homes will be lost, jobs will be cut, and people living on the edge of poverty will tumble over, well, the cliff.
Despite those very real risks, this may, indeed, be the place for Republicans to make a stand.
The party’s leaders and core supporters may feel that this is the pivot point that will lead the nation toward the kind of political and fiscal solutions that we need.
If so, it would be great to hear those ideas, a big-picture agenda for how this all plays out. A good time for Paul Ryan to step forward, or Mitch McConnell, or John Boehner.
But if this is mostly a moment of gridlock, uncertainty and political disarray within the GOP — as some Republican leaders have suggested — perhaps the better part of valor is to live to fight another day.
Unfortunately, there is evidence that this is exactly the situation we are in. This isn’t a monolithic, passionate, confident coalition of Republicans.
This is a movement riven, in conservative Charles Krauthammer’s words, by “civil war.”
The most important conservative think-tanks, including the American Enterprise Institute, are in free fall, with top right-wing leaders staging coups, purging dissidents, and silencing heretics within their own movement.
We also have the specter of House Speaker John Boehner failing to rally his own caucus to support any of his own ideas. It’s hardly the sort of thing that builds confidence and certainty.
In terms of the GOP’s own future, it’s also worth asking whether Americans will continue to have patience for this kind of take-no-prisoners politics.
Increasingly, in recent years, conservatives have staked out inflexible positions where the lack of a deal will mean a government shutdown, an international debt default, or a ride over the fiscal cliff.
But you can only cry “fire” in a crowded movie theater so many times before people start questioning who is to blame for all the flames.
I also suspect that voters are tired of the “no-deals-with-Obama” sentiment that clearly frames the actions of many rank-and-file House Republicans. It was a remarkable stance to take in the president’s first term.
Now that the Democratic president has been re-elected, rather handily, I suspect that the political posture of pure obstructionism is untenable — for the GOP writ large, if not for individual members of Congress.
So again, this may be the moment of truth for Republicans, the exact right place to draw a line in the sand. They may feel so confident in their positions it’s worth daring a second deep recession.
But so far, they haven’t made that case.
They haven’t laid out a narrative for how this confrontation, right now, helps the business owner on Main Street or the single mom who’s trying to hold down two jobs, or the young couple trying to buy their first house.
That stubborn, deafening silence is grounds for a lot of uncertainty, about the future of the country and the economy, but also about the future of the GOP.