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Posted by on Jul 11, 2011 in Economy, Politics | 1 comment

Quote of the Day: Our Pathetic Debt Ceiling Debate

Our political Quote of the Day is actually a series of long quotes from a piece by independent analyst John Avlon of The Daily Beast. Avlon who is also a commentor on CNN is flabbergasted by the debt ceiling debate and Congressional White House negotiations which he correctly notes is a sad commentary on our polarized, ideogically packed political culture.

Here are some key chunks and my own comments. Note that this is NOT the whole post so go to the link to read it all.

A cataclysmic game of chicken. Negotiating with a gun to your head. A Thelma & Louise-style full throttle off a cliff.

The dire metaphors for the debt-ceiling debate proliferate as we get closer to the August 2nd due date.

President Obama seemed determined to try and draw up a grand-bargain, and for a while Speaker Boehner did as well, knowing that this may be their last, best chance. After all, the closer we get to Election Day—a short-term ‘mini-deal’ would require a second round of negotiations in just a few months—the more silly season grandstanding will intrude.

But late yesterday, Speaker Boehner announced that no grand bargain was in his cards—he could not get his conference to agree on anything other than a short-term solution. That’s pathetic.

It’s pathetic that being “the adult in the room” is now a compliment in Washington, but that’s where we are a nation because of polarization. The activist class and ideologues of both parties throw tantrums and hold the nation hostage.

And indeed that is it. One of the most trite phrases now being thrown about is “false equivlancy” which usually means a partisan on one side is kind of like a kid on a playground who is involved in a fight and gets in trouble and says: “He started it! He did more! Don’t blame me!!” And yes, sometimes one side does have more of the blame but usually one side is not blameless. So then partisans turn it into an argument of the degree of blame.

In this case it has been clear that 21st century conservatives (who cannot be confused with Barry Goldwater in most cases) tied to the country’s powerful talk radio political culture and Tea Party movement consider compromise a dirty word. Meanwhile, on the Democratic Party’s left, it’s clear some were ready to say no to some of what Barack Obama was reportedly ready to suggest. Our politics now resembles a sports event where each side is most bent on winning and making sure the other side feels the defeat — and the repercussions are thought about only after that but the priority is clear. We are in a high fives political culture.

Avlon goes into some specifics on the debt issue then writes:

But one side effect of all the hyper-partisan Kool-Aid drinking in D.C. is that compromise is now considered collaboration. Dick Armey’s once scandalous statement that “bipartisanship is another name for date rape” is approaching accepted Washington conventional wisdom.

Conservatives refuse to consider revenue increases and Democrats refuse to consider entitlement reform. The deficit continues to grow, impacting our long-term financial stability, as the fiscal cliff that is the debt-ceiling vote gets closer.

Here’s the worst part: The hyper-partisans in both parties actually think they can gain tactical advantage by having our nation default.

Anyone who doesn’t believe that just has to tune into some talk radio shows on both sides and listen to callers. The suggestion is that if there is default someone can go up and pick up the political pieces. But what about shattered families, kids whose childhoods will be filled with additional stress, and the long range impact to the economy? To some (NOT ALL) partisans, it seems to be merely one big political football game.

With talk show hosts as cheerleaders.

So it’s time for a little truth-telling that takes the absolutists in both parties out to the woodshed.

First, the Republicans have chosen to make the once routine debt ceiling vote a matter of national crisis—essentially creating a problem where there never was any before when Bush took us from surplus to deficit. That is evidence of partisanship, not principle.

But what is most offensive is the shifting definition of tax increase, which shows just how far fiscal responsibility and fiscal conservatism have become de-linked.

Tax reform has always been the obvious opportunity for a grand bargain—closing loopholes and possibly reducing some rates as a way of stimulating growth while raising revenue. It is an achievable compromise.

But Eric Cantor’s newest negotiation stance seems to be say that any tax simplification that closes loopholes must be offset by an equivalent amount of tax cuts—essentially making them revenue neutral, which ignores the entire purpose of this forced fire drill: to reduce the deficit. It’s more evidence that too many in the GOP would rather demagogue the deficit than actually deal with it.

This is idiotic and intellectually dishonest—evidence of the all-or-nothing school of negotiation, which is not negotiation at all. So let’s be honest: Eric Cantor, and now John Boehner, is letting Grover Norquist determine the terms of debate. This is what happens what a Grand Old Party starts to look like a cult—it is held hostage by ideological absolutists. This is also called Stockholm Syndrome.

The bottom line is that many people who once were Republicans (such as yours truly who has been in both parties and whose hero is Teddy Roosevelt) find the current incarnation of conservatism almost unrecognizable — which is fine since current conservatives don’t seem to want those who don’t like the current brand in the party anyway.

But Avlon is equally critical of the Democrats:

But the liberal Democrats are proving to be almost as intractable as they accuse President Obama of being insufficiently ideological by even considering entitlement reforms as part of a grand-bargain.

Nancy Pelosi’s statement that “we are not going to balance the budget on the backs of America’s seniors, women and people with disabilities” was an epic bit of color-by-numbers pandering that surely still left some groups out. Nonetheless, she was far from alone—Obama is basically being called a traitor by the far-left these days, again exposing the surreal schizophrenia of our political debates, where the president is called a communist by conservatives and a corporate sell-out by liberals.

In both blogs and on liberal talk shows (I monitor a lot of talk radio while driving long distances and keeping my radio tuned to the superb programming on XM radio) there are some suggesting that it’s time to primary Obama. Obama was even referred to as “Obama Reagan.” (Read this post for my views on the Democratic Party’s left and 2012). If you write about this fact some folks get very upset: but Obama has and does face a major problem with his party’s liberal base.

It’s all about the weakening of the country’s governing center, paying even lip service to the once coveted concept of consensus and having American politics operate as it has throughout its history: where compromise may not be the ideal course, but in the end it is an honorable course since it creates policy and gets more people on board to support the policy. Compromise is a tough sell if the main goal seemingly becomes winning and rubbing the losing side’s face in it.

Avlon concludes:

The American economy will improve when we are on a better fiscal footing. That means dealing with our long-term deficit and debt—as well as showing the world that we can actually govern, which in a democracy means being able to reason together. The hyper-partisan all-or-nothing crowd is killing our credibility as the leading democratic republic on earth. Remember, the world’s sole super-power cannot be the world’s largest debtor nation indefinitely.

There will be economic benefits that will come with a grand bargain as well as political benefits. A broad-based plan of tax reform that raises revenues, cuts spending (that includes the Pentagon) and reforms entitlements would be a win-win for the nation, both now and into the future. The Simpson-Bowles plan remains the best model for moving forward. It should have enjoyed the support of the president and congressional Republicans from the beginning, instead of only lip service.

The biggest obstacle is the nihilistic all-or-nothing crowd that sees tactical advantage in taking our nation over the cliff, putting special interests over the national interest. The inmates are running the asylum. President Obama’s willingness to be reasonable is not being rewarded by Republicans. This will only push us further apart and closer to the brink.

May I use a word I try not to use, John?

Ditto.