01 August 2011


On the verge of an historic vote which will seal our nation's fiscal future in the near term, every poll I've seen indicates that Americans are disgusted by the spectacle of demagoguery, extortion, and capitulation going on in Washington, DC. Both parties are posturing, Republicans are extorting, and Democrats (including the president) are capitulating. There are moderate exceptions on both sides, but for the most part the debate over raising the nation's debt ceiling, riven by ancillary issues including whether to raise or slash spending, and whether to raise or slash revenue .... for the most part that debate has been an exercise in the worst kind of politics, sanctimonious public pronouncements coupled with shady deals in private conferences, resulting in an eleventh-hour deal with all the forethought and quality of a schoolchild's essay composed in the wee hours before the deadline.

It is the first time in our history that the economy has been held hostage by a voting deadline on raising the debt ceiling. And it is Republican dogma which has brought us to the brink of disaster. Recall that President Reagan increased the debt ceiling twice as fast as Obama (see chart below). Recall also that when Republicans were in full possession of the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the White House (under GeorgeW. Bush), they systematically dismantled the economic and fiscal policies which produced the strongest economy and largest budget surplus in our history (an economy and surplus achieved under Bill Clinton). The GOP "cut taxes (with a heavy tilt toward the rich), waged two wars on the national credit card .... passed a prescription drug benefit with no revenue to support it, and deregulated Wall Street (which helped turn the American economy into a casino and touched off the Great Recession."

Barack Obama inherited an economic and military debacle several decades in the making under three Republican presidents. To heal all wounds and repair the ship of state in one term, or even two terms, would take a miracle. He has defended his efforts at compromise as necessary to arrive at any kind of deal acceptable to liberals and conservatives. Others, even in his own party, aren't so sure. Economist Paul Krugman sees the president's act as surrender. He explains that "the deal itself, given the available information, is a disaster, and not just for President Obama and his party. It will damage an already depressed economy; it will probably make America's long-term deficit problem worse, not better; and most important, by demonstrating that raw extortion [by Republican lawmakers] works and carries no political cost, it will take America a long way down the road to banana-republic status."

The particulars of the current proposed deal may be found in this Huffington Post summary, which tends to confirm Krugman's analysis. Democrats have made concession after concession, while Republicans have relented on virtually no issues. Robert Reich spells them out thus ~ "The deal does not raise taxes on America's wealthy and most fortunte -- who are now taking home a larger share of total income and wealth, and whose tax rates are already lower than they have been in eighty years. Yet it puts the nation's most important safety nets and public investments on the chopping block.

"It also hobbles the capacity of the government to respond to the jobs and growth crisis. Added to the cuts already underway by state and local governments, the deal's spending cuts increase the odds of a double-dip recession. And the deal strengthens the political hand of the radical right.

"Yes, the deal is preferable to the unfolding economic catastrophe of a default on the debt of the U.S. government. The outrage and the shame is that it has come to this choice .... The budget deficit is not the biggest obstacle to our prosperity. Lack of jobs and growth is. And the largest threat to our democracy is the emergence of a radical right capable of getting most of the ransom it demands."

So what do you think? Is all this hard bargaining simply democracy at work? Or is it one party giving away the candy store, for fear of being called by the honorable title "liberal"? I'm inclined to agree with Krugman's and Reich's assessments. And I continue to view Republicans as corrupt, and Democrats as inept. The system is broken -- capitalism is morally bankrupt, and democracy has degraded from government by the people, to government by Wall Street.

This isn't the first elemental crisis we've faced, nor will it be the last. One thing is certain. As Edmund Burke famously observed, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men [and women] to do nothing." Decry apathy and get involved. Call your Senators and Representatives, sign petitions, demonstrate. Where is the sea of protests and marches of the 1960s and 1970s? Where is the indignation?

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