It was another grueling, dispiriting day in Washington. What truly terrifies me is the almost Egypt-level of mutual incomprehension that is being displayed. I take it for granted, for example, that the deficit is falling fast, that the current continuing resolution that is now in suspension affirmed the sequester levels of spending that are far lower than most Democrats would like, that Obamacare is settled law that can only be repealed by the usual democratic process, and that no sane government would default on its debts. But none of this seems to be accepted by the spokespeople of the Republican “party”.
They argue that we are facing a Greece-like implosion because of the current levels of debt (and not because they have shut down the government and are refusing to pay our bills until they stop Obamacare), that the deficit is growing (according to Speaker Boehner this week), that Obamacare is such a destruction of the entire American economy that it must be stopped or delayed at even the cost of a default, that a default is impossible anyway, and that even if we defaulted it would be no big deal.
That’s where we are. We cannot agree upon basic empirical fact in order to have a conversation, let alone a negotiation. If we were for a moment to step outside this cognitive abyss, I’d simply defer to the view of almost every single expert on the subject that even thinking about a default could be a catastrophic event not just for the American but for the entire global economy. Whatever your view of the budget or healthcare reform or the debt, surely no responsible government leader would want that to happen. And yet one party seems openly prepared to threaten it, even to save face among their increasingly radicalized followers.
The Republicans, alas, have two advantages that stem from their radicalism (yes, in a classic piece of total projection, they are the real Alinskyites and Obama is the real conservative). To any neutral observer – say, anyone outside the US – they are easily the crazier ones.
And they are holding a gun to the head of the American government and the economy. Do I believe they would happily explode this country’s credit and economy rather than have to go through the difficult task of building an actual majority in the country for their agenda? Yes, I’m afraid I do. I’ve been waiting to see some scintilla of resistance to ever further radicalization, and I see none whatsoever.
More to the point, most of the public’s eyes glaze over when you explain that the budget – with sequester-level austerity – has already been agreed to and that we are discussing now whether the Congress, having set such a budgetary path, will keep the federal government open and pay the country’s bills. Instead, the GOP can simply switch the subject, claim we are in a perilous debt crisis already and that the debt ceiling is the last stand before we end up like Greece. There is no evidence for this, so far as I can see. But that doesn’t matter if you really live in your own mental universe. In that universe, when the default occurs and the economy crashes, and the stock market collapses, and the dollar sinks like a stone, you can simply state that it was all Obama’s fault. And there are enough true-believers out there who’ll actually buy it. Worse, an economic collapse will inevitably make Obama less popular.
So there are two choices, it seems to me. Obama can invoke emergency executive authority to protect the unquestionable credit of the United States and dare the Courts to over-rule him and the Congress to impeach him. Or Obama can give in to what is an unbelievably outrageous tactic – and try to salvage some kind of interim budget deal that will raise the debt ceiling in return for some kind of Republican trophy. That would be a surrender of profound implications for future presidents – yes, Republican ones too – and fundamentally alter our political system to reward the kind of blackmail we’re now witnessing. But it would end the immediate emergency and remove the blackmail – for a while, until the GOP insists that, even though they lost the last election, they have a right to run the country permanently, regardless of electoral outcomes.
Better perhaps for the president to act to save the economy and the world in a truly perilous self-induced crisis than to allow this rogue faction to concoct a Lehman-style collapse to the power of 10 and then blame him for it. It remains staggering and outrageous that this is where we are. But if one faction of one party controls the House, and it goes completely rogue, as it has, then what can a sane president do? Juan Linz, as Chait as noted, was onto something.
All I can offer at this point is some relief: my favorite post of the day – on the genius of octopus brains –; a jumping greyhound; an all-too relevant clip from a fantastic stoner apocalypse movie; a truly WTF tourism commercial; a really tough Window View contest; and for pure camp value, Michele Bachmann making me shit myself.
See you in the morning, if I can get out from under the covers.
Window view: Duluth, Minnesota, 12 pm.