Kept hoping — against hope, of course — this debt thing would get resolved before I had to say something about it. I’ve had observations to make about it along the way, but just haven’t wanted to get into it. I hate the subject; it bores me to tears. But it also makes me angry. Part of the anger is over the substance, of course. But part of it is that they’re making me think about this stuff. This is why we have representative democracy, you see. We elect people to go off and handle this stuff and make sure they don’t drive the country onto the rocks — and NOT bother us with the excruciating details.
They’re not getting the job done. Part of the reason, of course, is that there are a bunch of people in the House — the Tea Party guys — who don’t get what the responsibility of public office is all about. They think their bumper stickers slogans, the things that got them elected, are reality, and don’t understand that the world is more complicated than the concepts that got them elected. Unfortunately, they also have a certain cognitive block from ever learning they are wrong. Most people go into elective office with all sorts of misconceptions and foolish ideas. Most, whether they are “liberal” or “conservative,” realize with experience that there are broader responsibilities to the country (and in this case, to the entire world, since the already-weakened worldwide economy is poised to go over the brink with us). It’s not just about how they and their constituents feel about things, and unfortunately they have very powerful resistance to learning, ever, how wrong they are.
Part of the problem is that a significant part of their ideology involves rejection of the idea that experience is valuable. This is a common populist fallacy, of course, but it’s particularly malignant in this case, in terms of its effect on the world. People who go to Washington — or Columbia, or wherever — and study issues and come to understandings different from the prejudices they had originally… are considered sellouts, under this ideology. Such people who embrace larger responsibilities are not wiser in this view; they are corrupted.
Another obstacle is that this ideology is particularly nihilistic toward what happens to the world at large, as long as the ideology is served.
This makes it very dangerous for people with such a worldview to hold office. Oh, it’s not so bad to have one or two of these anti-Mr. Smiths at the table (Mr. Smith went to Washington to make the world a better place; these guys go to Washington to tell the world to go to hell). Unfortunately, the party that now holds a momentary (and at my age, I consider two-year cycles to be “momentary”) majority in the House knows that it holds that tenuous power because of the knot of such people in its midst. And is held hostage by it.
Speaking of “hostage,” did you see that performance by Boehner last night? He was like the prisoner forced to recite the propaganda with an AK-47 pointed at his head just off-camera. The only think lacking in his performance was the blinked Morse code (or maybe it was there; I don’t read Morse) saying “I don’t really believe this stuff; I just have to say it.” But his tone and body language did that. The performance brought to mind all those meetings I read about in which Boehner was the Soviet commanding officer caught in the middle, trying to do the right thing, and Eric Cantor was the sneering zampolit, ready to report him to the Central Committee for the slightest lack of revolutionary zeal.
Obama, by contrast, was more convincing last night. Part of that was pure talent. I’m not accustomed to watching Boehner, but I doubt that he’s nearly the orator Obama is. Almost no one is, particularly at communicating sober conviction.
I heard some commentary on the radio (NPR) this morning that said neither man gave America what it wanted last night — a way out — but simply acted as apologist for his own side’s position.
I suppose that’s true. But Obama’s position is the defensible one. He wants cuts and revenue increases, which is what a rational person who is not blinded by ideology would choose. Neither is what said rational person would want. Until the economy is ticking along a lot more strongly, both spending cuts and tax increases could have a chilling effect.
But here’s the thing: NOT getting control of our mounting debt, under these circumstances, would have a much worse effect. It’s not just about raising the debt ceiling. If you do that, and don’t reduce the gap between spending and revenue, we’re still likely to have a devastating downgrade of the nation’s credit rating. And we can’t afford that.
To let one’s natural reluctance to cut spending or raise taxes get in the way of dealing with that would be unconscionable. And letting a narrow ideology (particularly one that holds that it is ALWAYS right to do one and NEVER right to do the other, regardless of circumstances, which is the height of foolishness — but I guess that’s a workable definition of ideology) get in the way is much, much worse.