Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Ten Things I Learned From the Debt Ceiling Fiasco

Well, it seems that the United States will not turn into everyone’s least loved uncle after all, the deadbeat who shows up to the party coasting on old glories and wondering why nobody will lend him a sawbuck anymore. Of course it took months of partisan warfare to reach the point where we would live up to our promises and do what everyone with four functional brain cells to rub together knew needed to be done, and in the process this country managed to reduce itself to a laughing stock on the world stage.

But that’s okay, because we’re ‘Merica! Hell yeah!

Honestly, sometimes you have to wonder.

But nothing happens without presenting an opportunity to learn at least a little something, and this was no different. So here I present to you the lessons that most stick out in my mind from this whole debacle.


1. The Democratic Party does not know how to lead.

The Democrats control one and half of the two branches of government involved in this process. They had an airtight case for their position that a) the debt ceiling had to be raised and b) this had to involve increasing revenue (i.e. taxes, preferably on those who can most afford them). They had the support of the American people in this – repeated polls showed that the overwhelming majority of Democrats and Independents favored this position, and even majorities of Republicans did as well.

And yet they still managed to collapse like a Nevada real estate loan in the face of Teabagger intransigence. Of course this is the same party that couldn’t figure out how to get anything through the Senate with only a majority, so this comes as no surprise really.

2. The Republican Party does not know how to govern.

Governing a country the size and diversity of the United States is not like ordering a shirt from a catalog. You don’t just make demands and expect them to be fulfilled. The people on the other side are citizens too and their concerns must be taken into account. The Republican strategy of insisting that it was their way or the highway was therefore rather short-sighted and deeply un-American. There is little doubt that the party responsible for this debacle was the one making the most unreasonable demands and moving the goalposts every time the other side capitulated, which was early and often. The Republicans need to grow up, get over themselves, and learn what responsibility looks like and how to exercise it.

Further, when presented with a Democratic offer that essentially gave them 80% of what they wanted and would likely lead to chaos among Democratic supporters, the Republicans not only refused the deal but doubled down on their own crazy.

In part this is because the Republicans were so badly split themselves – did anyone else notice that the Speaker of the House spent the week prior to the deal basically negotiating with himself? That he had several incompatible proposals in the works at the same time and was reduced to shuttling between them?

This is the Gang That Can’t Legislate Straight. They shouldn’t be allowed to order their own coffee at Starbucks, let alone run the country.

3. It is getting harder and harder to regard the Teabaggers as a “loyal” opposition.

The Teabaggers really came out into the open with this fiasco. They want to rule us all and in the darkness bind us, and if that means destroying the nation’s economy, security, and political system in order to impose their narrow little agenda on an unwilling citizenry, well then that’s they price they’re willing to have us pay.

This is effectively a declaration of war on the United States from within its own government.

There is a word for that in the Constitution – treason.

4. Nobody involved in this affair has any real interest in solving the actual problem at hand, which is the imbalance between what we spend and what we take in.

There was a great deal of posturing, particularly on the Teabagger side, but if you look at any of the proposals on the table none of them were really serious about fiscal stability.

If we were really serious about fiscal stability we would be raising taxes to pay for the things we want the country to do (health care, for example) and cutting expenses for things the country really doesn’t need at the moment (such as two Mideast wars whose main function at this point is to make the US less safe rather than the opposite and in which nobody has any idea what a victory would actually look like).

Did you hear anything like that on the table? Of course not.

5. The American people have precious little say in the running of their own government at the moment.

Again, note that solid bipartisan majorities of Americans wanted the debt ceiling raised and a mixture of taxes and spending cuts used to address the issues relating to it. And note that none of that made a difference at all to the Teabaggers who have effectively taken control of the federal government from their position as a minority ruling elite.

6. The most responsible media in the United States in the early 21st century is the blogosphere.

All I saw on the mainstream media were talking points – Teabagger talking points on the right-wing media and Republican and Democratic talking points on the centrist media (there being no real left wing media in this country, contrary to what the Teabaggers say).

All of the interesting stories happened on the blogs, because blogs aren’t powerful enough to be worth crushing. Yet.

7. This won’t last long.

Blogs are easily overwhelmed by trolls, and having scanned the comment sections of any number of articles on this it was easy to see this happening. Further, blogs are easily astroturfed – anyone can set up a blog, even Teabagger billionaires, and eventually they will. Or have. And then the whole thing collapses into a dusty pile of irrelevance.

Enjoy the internet while you can.

8. Anything can be spun almost any way you want.

Who won this battle? I’ve heard everything from Obama to Reid to Boehner to Cantor to Wall Street to Teabaggers to nobody.

Who lost this battle? I’ve heard everything from Obama to Reid to Boehner to Cantor to Wall Street to Teabaggers to nobody.

All I know is that my boots are getting wet and it isn’t raining.

9. The rest of the world has a much better idea of what is going on in the US than most Americans do.

When everyone from the Chinese government to Egyptian protesters can diagnose the ills of American politics and debt more shrewdly than the average American citizen, the republic is in sad shape.

When foreign government officials are more honest about what is happening in the halls of Congress than our own media, the republic is doomed.

Americans choose to be ignorant, and the world laughs. Sadly, I can’t really argue with the world on this one.

10. The debt ceiling needs to be eliminated.

It serves no useful function to have Congress vote on whether to spend the money that they’ve already voted to spend. This is why it is almost always done automatically. Raising the debt ceiling doesn’t add money to the debt – that happens at the budget level. If Congress wants to be serious about fiscal responsibility, the point where that has to happen is when they decide on what to spend in the future, not where they decide to pay for debts already incurred.

At best debt ceiling is a useless gesture designed to make Congress feel better about not doing its job earlier.

At worst – i.e. as it has panned out this year – it is a tool for a hyperpartisan minority to force into law an agenda that it does not have the votes to enact otherwise. The hijacking of a routine administrative action by a fanatical group of zealots willing to destroy the country to get their way should be sufficient to convince any American citizen that the debt ceiling is a dangerously sharp tool to be left out where children can get their hands on it.


As Yogi Berra supposedly once said, “You can observe a lot just by watching.”


Eric said...

All I can say is: yes.

David said...

Thanks, Eric. And having read your posts on the issue, I can say I share your views as well.

Warner said...

Both the Senate and the President should have said 'Nay' or 'Veto'.

A major restructuring of American spending in about 48 hours is going to be about as good as the term paper you wrote the night before it was due.

Thank you Eric.

David said...

While I agree with your assessment of the restructuring of American spending, I disagree with your first point. Default would have been infinitely worse. At least this way the only country we're screwing up is our own, and in ways that (theoretically) are easier to correct down the line.

No, once again, the American left is stuck being the grown-up at this party, stepping in to minimize the damage made by right-wing extremists.

The tide comes in, the tide goes out.

Beatrice Desper said...

Default would have been HORRENDOUS!
As the wife of someone who dabbles in the currency market, and has a resident of Europe, (much less the world) I'd rather have a few canals performed simultaneously.

"there being no real left wing media in this country"

I can't watch the news anymore when I go home.

Beatrice Desper said...

Oh, no, typos!
" AS a resident"
I'd like to have "root canals" rather than live through a default.
Even without the default, there are repurcussions in the European markets.
When America coughs, the rest of the cold gets a flu.