Watching the circus in Washington used to be a fun activity, but right now it is just depressing. I got home from work last night expecting to watch the Republican vote on the Speaker’s plan only to learn that it had been postponed. When I went to bed at 10 it was still pending. At 5 this morning, I learned it didn’t happen because the Republican leadership didn’t have the votes. All this for a bill that is DOA in the Senate.
We are all being held hostage by a handful of tea partiers and other Republicans who are convinced that their election gave them some kind of mandate to kill the country. As they are learning in Wisconsin, people are beginning to have buyer’s remorse. On the other hand, the tea partiers are threatening to run against the very people they elected if the new Congressmembers don’t come through. Among those making the threats are Sarah Palin and the founder of the Texas Tea Party on Al Sharpton’s MSNBC show last night. So I don’t think the 20 or so votes that Boehner is looking for will materialize, but then again, this whole spectacle is full of surprises so one never knows.
Everyone, including President Obama, has let this small faction define the fight. I think Eugene Robinson is right: The Republicans have one easily stated idea: Reduce the deficit (and deny Obama a second term) while the Democrats and particularly Progressives don’t have an easily stated idea.
Those who would chronicle events in Washington can find no richer source of analogy and metaphor than the Three Stooges. These days, I’m thinking of the times when an exasperated Moe, having suffered the indignity of an accidental spritzing or clobbering, turns to Larry or Curly and demands, “What’s the big idea?”
The premise of the debt-ceiling fight is too far-fetched for a Stooges film, since no audience could imagine leaders of a great nation stumbling into such a mess. Moe’s trademark line is still relevant, however, even if it’s not followed by the two-fingered poke in the eyes that our elected officials richly deserve.
It is clear that unless President Obama ends up taking unilateral action to break a hopeless deadlock, Republicans will win. The House, the Senate and the White House are all working within GOP-defined parameters: New tax revenue is off the table, painful budget cuts are a given, everyone seems to accept the principle that a debt-ceiling increase — which allows the Treasury to pay bills Congress has already incurred — must be tied to reductions in future spending.
Besides not having an easily stated idea that everyone repeats, the Democrats have done all the compromising. And it hasn’t worked out so well. Look back at the retention of the Bush tax cuts: Do you see any jobs? Robinson concludes
Obama talks about “winning the future,” but that’s too nebulous. I’d suggest something pithier: jobs, jobs, jobs.
People may dislike paying taxes, but they dislike unemployment more. Progressives should talk about bringing the nation back to full employment and healthy growth — and how this requires an adequately funded government to play a major role.
The next time Moe asks about the big idea, Democrats, say “jobs.” You might avoid a slap on the noggin and a poke in the eyes.
I think it maybe time for the President to stop trying to compromise, to get together with Reid and Pelosi and make a real proposal. To quote Paul Krugman
Some of us have long complained about the cult of “balance,” the insistence on portraying both parties as equally wrong and equally at fault on any issue, never mind the facts. I joked long ago that if one party declared that the earth was flat, the headlines would read “Views Differ on Shape of Planet.” But would that cult still rule in a situation as stark as the one we now face, in which one party is clearly engaged in blackmail and the other is dickering over the size of the ransom?
The answer, it turns out, is yes. And this is no laughing matter: The cult of balance has played an important role in bringing us to the edge of disaster. For when reporting on political disputes always implies that both sides are to blame, there is no penalty for extremism. Voters won’t punish you for outrageous behavior if all they ever hear is that both sides are at fault.
So what’s with the buzz about a centrist uprising? As I see it, it’s coming from people who recognize the dysfunctional nature of modern American politics, but refuse, for whatever reason, to acknowledge the one-sided role of Republican extremists in making our system dysfunctional. And it’s not hard to guess at their motivation. After all, pointing out the obvious truth gets you labeled as a shrill partisan, not just from the right, but from the ranks of self-proclaimed centrists.
But making nebulous calls for centrism, like writing news reports that always place equal blame on both parties, is a big cop-out — a cop-out that only encourages more bad behavior. The problem with American politics right now is Republican extremism, and if you’re not willing to say that, you’re helping make that problem worse.
Time for the President to not only talk the talk as he did last week, but also walk the walk. Compromise by only one side has lead to this circus that is not even very entertaining. At the very least, round up enough votes in the Senate to pass the Reid plan so the Democrats can at least say they did something. You can compare plans here. And please, let there be only one vote. I don’t think anyone can take this again in 6 months.