Will the loser allow the winner to govern?

Ezra Klein had an intriguing post today discussing the reaction to the chance for a “real debate in this year’s election.” He quoted Thomas Friedman, who wrote, “We need more than debates. That’s all we’ve been having. We need deals.”

Then he talked about how he always asks politicians who talk about this being a “choice election” this question: “If you think this is a choice election, will you let the other side govern if they win?” No one has ever said yes.

It didn’t use to be this way. When Bush was “elected” president, Democrats could have completely gummed up the works. But he got three bites at the tax cut apple. He got two wars (one necessary, but never given the attention or resources needed for victory; the other completely counterproductive). He got a huge Medicare prescription drug plan that he didn’t pay for (though passing that over conservative opposition took keeping the voting open for hours, shenanigans I can only imagine would still be criticized today if Pelosi had used them to pass Obamacare).

In fact, beyond Social Security privatization, I can’t think of one major item on Bush’s agenda that didn’t pass, even though Democrats had at least a filibuster-proof minority in the Senate the entire time. Sure, they held up a few of his most extreme judicial nominees (leading Republicans to threaten a procedural gimmick to do away with the filibuster for judicial nominations; an option they would be extremely hostile to now, I imagine).

Bush got, in other words, the opportunity to govern that President Barack Obama has been denied since Scott Brown won Sen. Ted Kennedy’s old seat and became the infamous “41st vote.”

Then Republicans retook the House in 2010, and since then, nothing has been accomplished without excruciating negotiations and repercussions – not even something as simple and routine as increasing the debt ceiling to prevent the nation from defaulting on its obligations.

I could forgive Democrats for not wanting to forget, or forgive, what Republicans have done to the governing process. But in the unlikely event that Romney wins, I genuinely hope they don’t give tit for tat. While it would be immensely satisfying, and would undoubtedly stop much loathsome, counterproductive and damaging legislation, it would also most likely irreparably break governance in the United States for a generation – assuming Republicans haven’t already done that.

Ideally, Democrats should be out there shouting from the rooftops about what Republicans have done; how they have abused the filibuster and denied Obama the right to enact the policies he campaigned upon and that brought Democrats back control of Congress in 2008, and how they managed to downgrade the nation’s credit in the bargain (and nearly worse). Obama should ratchet up his rhetoric against a “do-nothing Congress” shackled by Republican intransigence. Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s 2008 line that defeating Obama was his caucus’s No. 1 priority should be on maximum rotation on the airways.

And, ideally, the American people should pay attention to what has been going on, realize how absolutely radicalized the GOP has become, and send them packing into the political wilderness until they get their act together. And then they would be unable to prevent the winners from governing.

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