Jim Geraghty (via email) explains why democrats think they don’t need to compromise.
[T]he president probably doesn’t really want a default . . . but that doesn’t mean he’s willing to do much to avoid one. He’s probably confident he’ll win the blame game afterwards — he has good reason to think that! — and this scenario would undoubtedly give him a clear, concise message from here until November 2014: “House Republicans destroyed the economy.” In fact, from November 1, 2013 until January 20, 2017, President Obama would cite his built-in excuse:The U.S. government’s failure to pay money it owes did irrevocable damage to the confidence of investors around the globe, an obstacle that not even his enlightened, innovative, unprecedented, wise, and munificent policies could overcome.
This is what happens when you have a bunch of elected leaders who are so convinced they can win a crisis that they aren’t that interested in preventing the crisis. Or that they seem to welcome crises, believing they’re all opportunities in disguise.
This ultimately all can be laid at the feet of the mainstream media, or whatever you like to call it these days: The New York Times, the Associated Press, Time, the network news crews, and so on. They’ve created a political environment of near-zero accountability.
We live in an atmosphere where Democrats aren’t worried about any of their decisions backfiring, because they know the mainstream coverage will always give them the benefit of the doubt, hammer their opponents, and gloss over or downplay their worst moments. The flip side of the coin is a “Tea Party caucus” (for lack of a better term) that has absolutely no fear of getting bad press — because they feel/suspect/know they’ll get negative coverage no matter what they do. Most of these guys shrug at the Morning Joe panel unanimously denouncing them as fools and unhinged extremists, because they think the only way that panel won’t denounce them as fools and extremists is if they stop being conservatives. A lot of those House members feel they might as well vote their principles and draw the hardest line possible — because if you’re going to get bad coverage, you might as well get bad coverage while fighting for a good cause.
Detail, Horatio Greenough, George Washington Attired in Roman Toga, 1841, National Museum of American History
Stratfor’s George Friedman thinks seriously about what the founders would have thought about the partisan stalemate in Washington.
The founders needed to bridge the gaps between the need to govern, the fear of tyranny and the uncertainty of the future. Their solution was not in law but in personal virtue. The founders were fascinated by Rome and its notion of governance. Their Senate was both a Roman name and venue for the Roman vision of the statesman, particularly Cincinnatus, who left his farm to serve (not rule) and then returned to it when his service was over. The Romans, at least in the eyes of the founders if not always in reality, did not see government as a profession but rather as a burden and obligation. The founders wanted reluctant rulers.
They also wanted virtuous rulers. Specifically they lauded Roman virtue. It is the virtue that most reasonable men would see as praiseworthy: courage, prudence, kindness to the weak, honoring friendship, resolution with enemies. These were not virtues that were greatly respected by intellectuals, since they knew that life was more complicated than this. But the founders knew that the virtues of common sense ought not be analyzed until they lose their vigor and die. They did not want philosopher-kings; they wanted citizens of simple, clear virtues, who served reluctantly and left gladly, pursued their passions but were blocked by the system from imposing their idiosyncratic vision, pursued the ends of the preamble, and were contained in their occasional bitterness by the checks and balances that would frustrate the personal and ideological ambitions of others.
The Founding Father who best reflects these values is, of course, George Washington. Among the founders, it is he whom we should heed as we ponder the paralysis-by-design of the founders’ system and the current conundrum threatening an American debt default. He understood that the public would be reluctant to repay debt and that the federal government would lack the will to tax the public to pay debt on its behalf. He stressed the importance of redeeming and discharging public debt. He discouraged accruing additional debt and warned against overusing debt.
However, Washington understood there would be instances in which debt had to be incurred. He saw public credit as vital and therefore something that ought to be used sparingly — particularly in the event of war — and then aggressively repaid. This is not a technical argument for those who see debt as a way to manage the economy. It is a moral argument built around the virtue of prudence.
After these excellent observations, though, George reaches a dubious conclusion.
I think the founders would have questioned the prudence of our current debt. They would ask if it were necessary to incur, and how and whether it would be paid back. They would also question whether economic growth driven by debt actually strengthens the nation. In any case, I think there is little doubt they would be appalled by our debt levels, not necessarily because of what it might do to the economy, but because of what it does to the national character. However, because they were moderate men they would not demand an immediate solution. Nor would they ask for a solution that undermines national power.
As for federally mandated health care, I think they would be wary of entrusting such an important service to an entity they feared viscerally. But they wouldn’t have been fanatical in their resistance to it. As much as federally mandated health care would frighten them, I believe fanaticism would have frightened them even more.
The question of a default would have been simple. They would have been disgusted by any failure to pay a debt unless it was simply impossible to do so. They would have regarded self-inflicted default — regardless of the imprudence of the debt, or health care reform or any such subject — as something moderate people do not contemplate, let alone do.
So, by this analysis (which I think is drawn unconsciously from the poisoned well of the establishment media), even though Obamacare and an ever-increasing and unsustainable public debt are both classic examples of the kind of fundamentally destructive perils to the Republic which the framers devised the Constitution specifically to avoid, good men must refrain from fully utilizing the House’s power of the purse to restrain the radicals and the corrupt because refusing to write checks to cover the debts they irresponsibly and uncontrollably pile up would mean the good men were being “immoderate.” Uh, huh!
Sorry, but I think it is appropriate to quote Justice Jackson to Mr. Friedman: “The Constitution is not a suicide pact.” And a one-sided political philosophy which demands that the forces of conservatism, liberty, and fiscal prudence must be moderate and cannot fight totally ruthless opponents who shrink from nothing with all their means simply guarantees that the democrats are always going to win.
When we have one of these policy confrontations, I would say, “Republicans, what would the democrats do?” The answer is: everything and anything necessary to win. In political wars, it is desirable to maintain a standard of behavior. It is desirable to set an example of moderation. But to set any kind of example, to have any impact on the future, to be remembered by history, you actually do have to win. Nobody, long years afterwards, says, they lost, but they were so well-mannered and restrained in their manner of being defeated that we are building them this monument.
We have, in this country, an ongoing political struggle between two parties. The Republican Party is commonly comprised of well-meaning, civic-minded and moderate men, successful businessmen, Rotarians who went on into public service. The democrat party, on the other hand, is full of machine politicians, of ruthless bastards with limitless ambition, of demagogues and crooks. Republicans would like to do politics in the genteel way you play a game of croquet. Democrats are professional, organized, and utterly and totally determined to win every time at any cost. We are doing politics as an obligation and a duty. They are doing politics to make a living. If a typical Republican leaves office, he is happy to go home. If a typical major democrat pol were to leave politics, he’d be in the gutter or in jail. The Republican Party is going to keep losing until its leaders realize that they are really fighting for the survival of the Republic and that they have to fight these people with no holds barred.
You’re an average American family, facing tough times. Credit cards are maxed, bills are past due and the family home is about to be foreclosed upon. If it meant avoiding financial disaster, think you could cut 5, 10 or even 20% from the family budget? Of course you could, because youâ€™re not a bunch of self-serving morons. Which brings us to the â€œSuper Committeeâ€. Theyâ€™re about to fail in cutting a PATHETIC 2.7% (1.2 trillion out of a projected 44 trillion) in federal spending over the next TEN YEARS. Only in DC could such arrogance & foolishness be called â€œsuperâ€.
Conan the Barbarian opined that it was “to crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women.”
Republicans have not really crushed the democrats, and we may not exactly be seeing them driven before us, but they are certainly currently in retreat and disarray, and we do get to listen to the lamentations of their Krugman.
A deal to raise the federal debt ceiling is in the works. If it goes through, many commentators will declare that disaster was avoided. But they will be wrong.
For 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 Americaâ€™s long-run deficit problem worse, not better; and most important, by demonstrating that raw extortion works and carries no political cost, it will take America a long way down the road to banana-republic status. …
[T]he reported terms of the deal… amount to an abject surrender on the part of the president. First, there will be big spending cuts, with no increase in revenue. Then a panel will make recommendations for further deficit reduction â€” and if these recommendations arenâ€™t accepted, there will be more spending cuts.
Make no mistake about it, what weâ€™re witnessing here is a catastrophe on multiple levels.
It is, of course, a political catastrophe for Democrats, who just a few weeks ago seemed to have Republicans on the run over their plan to dismantle Medicare; now Mr. Obama has thrown all that away. And the damage isnâ€™t over: there will be more choke points where Republicans can threaten to create a crisis unless the president surrenders, and they can now act with the confident expectation that he will.
In the long run, however, Democrats wonâ€™t be the only losers. What Republicans have just gotten away with calls our whole system of government into question.
“Tea party Republicans may be a noisy and effective protest movement, but theyâ€™re unfit to govern,â€ Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said at a news conference on Friday.
Speaker John Boehner’s task in working out a deal with Barack Obama and the democrat leadership of the Senate to avert a default crisis was made more difficult by 22 fiscally-irredentist Tea Party Republicans who refused to support his compromise solution.
John McCain made headlines by labeling the conservative extremists as “hobbits.”
I think “the hobbits” were wrong tactically and philosophically on insisting on trying to pass a balanced budget amendment. The democrats could never accept a balanced budget amendment. Their base and constituencies would never tolerate it. But, even more importantly, a balanced budget amendment is an unworkable idea which is constitutionally highly problematic.
Publius Huldah is quite right: a balanced budget amendment would strike directly at the concept of enumerated powers and it would effectively transfer decision-making authority from Congress to the courts.
The hobbits were wrong about the balanced budget amendment, but I think their hearts were in the right place and I still think they served a highly useful purpose in holding the GOP leaderships’ feet to the fire and restricting their ability to compromise too far elsewhere.
Mr. Boehner was enabled by their existence to go to Barack Obama and Harry Reid and say, “You know, guys, I’d like to compromise further and let you throw in some class-warfare taxes on the rich, but those crazy hobbits are fierce and fanatical. They’d never put up with any tax increases at all. I’d like to settle for more modest spending reductions, but Bandobras “Bullroarer” Took (R-VA) is insisting on blood.” It’s useful in negotiations to have a “Mr. Jones” you have to answer to, who is completely unreasonable and who is making maximalist demands.
Marc A. Thiessen contends that, in the end, in fact, the Tea Party hobbits did win.
The reported debt-limit deal appears to be a victory for the Tea Party. It includes around $1 trillion in spending cuts and creates a special committee of Congress to recommend cuts of $1.2 trillion more. If Congress does not approve those additional cuts by yearâ€™s end, automatic spending cuts go into effect. The package sets an important new precedent that debt-limit increases must be â€œpaid forâ€ with commensurate cuts in spending. According to Sen. Rob Portman, a former White House budget director, if we cut a dollar of spending for every dollar we raise the debt limit, we will balance the budget in 10 years â€” something that even the Paul Ryan budget would not achieve. And all this is accomplished with no tax increases. …
The Tea Party is also winning the battle of ideas. Last week, Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod crowed that the debt-limit battle was shaping up as a â€œdefinitional fightâ€ in which voters would see Obama as defending the reasonable center against Republicans who are â€œpandering to the extremes.â€ Well, if Axelrod is so confident that Obama is winning this â€œdefinitional fight,â€ why was the White House so adamant about ducking a second round next year? The president said that â€œthe only bottom line that I have is that we extend this debt ceiling through the next election.â€ If he were winning the argument, he would have been eager to have this fight again just before the next election.
And Glenn Reynolds notes complacently: Well, you know the hobbits won in the original story too.
The fact that the Conservative Movement is large and diverse enough to have its own more extreme fringe is really a positive sign. Political coalitions large enough to win are never tidy, compact, perfectly ideologically pure, all neat and discreet. A successful political movement inevitably even attracts people you would just as soon not have on your own side along with all the opportunists who can tell which way the wind is blowing.
Charles Krauthammer, reflecting on the debt ceiling compromise, tells Fox News that the Tea Party Movement has done what it set out to do. It has changed the topic of America’s political debate.
Not so very long ago, at the time of his State of the Union address in January, Barack Obama was talking about more stimulus, “investment” in non-existent and uneconomic technologies, and the United States was firmly on the path to becoming another European-style welfare state. Looking back, Obama seems to be living in a different era. We are now in the period in which Americans recognize that government expansion and spending has gone too far, entitlements need to be rolled back, and the purposes and abilities of government re-evaluated. Obama has become a relic of the past, a fossil, and the Tea Party has been responsible.
Krauthammer, I think perfectly correctly views the still-pending-enactment debt bargain as a limited victory, but also as a turning point.
I have every sympathy with the conservative counterrevolutionaries. Their containment of the Obama experiment has been remarkable. But reversal â€” rollback, in Cold War parlance â€” is simply not achievable until conservatives receive a mandate to govern from the White House.
Lincoln is reputed to have said: I hope to have God on my side, but I must have Kentucky. I donâ€™t know whether conservatives have God on their side (I keep getting sent to His voice mail), but I do know that they donâ€™t have Kentucky â€” they donâ€™t have the Senate, they donâ€™t have the White House. And under our constitutional system, you cannot govern from one house alone. Todayâ€™s resurgent conservatism, with its fidelity to constitutionalism, should be particularly attuned to this constraint, imposed as it is by a system of deliberately separated â€” and mutually limiting â€” powers.
Given this reality, trying to force the issue â€” turn a blocking minority into a governing authority â€” is not just counter-constitutional in spirit but self-destructive in practice. …
November 2012 constitutes the new conservatismâ€™s one chance to restructure government and change the ideological course of the country. Why risk forfeiting that outcome by offering to share ownership of Obamaâ€™s wreckage?
Michael Walsh explains the president’s game plan in the current negotiations over debt increases. The democrats are simply trying to blame Republicans for risking default, and doing everything possible to get a debt ceiling increase running past next year’s election in order to try to minimize their own vulerabilities on the issues of excessive spending and the deficit.
I liked his metaphorical comparison to the double dealing and intrigue in the Coen Brothers’ gangster movie Miller’s Crossing (1990). I guess the contrived and systematic insincerity must make Obama Bernie Birnbaum.
By now, the Obama â€œleadershipâ€ style should be blindingly apparent: Do nothing, lie in wait, and then counter-attack. Never present a plan if you can possibly help it, but deal exclusively in bromides and platitudes as you stake out the moral â€œhigh groundâ€ and get ready to ambush the other guy. …
Meanwhile, have your media allies, talking parrots, and court lickspittles prepare the ground with standard-issue talking points â€” â€œThe Tea Party Republicans are terrorists,â€ for example. …
Adamantly refuse to be pinned down about the specifics of anything, and have your platoon of Baghdad Bobs continue to insist (as good liberals always do) that up is down, black is white, and wishes are really horses, if not actual unicorns.
So the later Boehner walks into the trap, the quicker Harry Reid trumps him, and the sooner Obama can can declare for the umpteenth time that the time for talk is over, emerge as a hero â€” and get the debt-ceiling debate safely past the shoals of the next election, which is all he really cares about. Because, in case you hadnâ€™t noticed, running for office is the only thing the Punahou Kid knows how to do.
Paul Ryan debunks a standard kind of fraudulent budget-cutting which figures prominently in the democrat proposals. It is his ability, and willingness, to cut through the conventional financial obfuscations relied upon by professional politicians that makes Rep. Paul Ryan such a desirable choice for next year’s GOP nomination. I wish he’d run.
“Buzz” Reid in his beige 1941 Chevrolet Special DeLuxe Coupe has challenged “James Dean” Boehner, driving a distinctly cooler black 1949 Mercury Club Coupe, to a Chicken Run straight at the abyss of financial default.
Which political leader will jump out his car first? Doesn’t Buzz realize that Jimmy Dean is the hero and is bound to win? Watch out for the cuff strap of your leather jacket on the car door handle, Senator Reid!