As this debt-ceiling fiasco reaches its apex, it has become clear that The Man Who Killed Osama bin Laden has, hopefully only temporarily, disappeared from the scene.
In his place is a man who, well, bragged on Sunday night that one result of the bipartisan debt-ceiling agreement would be,
the lowest level of annual domestic spending since Dwight Eisenhower was President.
It was once inconceivable for some of us to imagine that Obama, or any Democratic president, would utter such a statement, especially in its present context: Tea Party arsonists, matches in hand, are about to set our economic house on fire and have even threatened to slash the tires on the fire trucks, unless the zealots get what they demand.
And it appears they will get much of what they want, if enough of them put down the matches and the gasoline and decide to take the deal. The main thing, for them and all Republicans, is that there will be no definite revenue increases, which would have served to make swallowing the definite domestic cuts a little easier for Democrats.
The post-bin Laden Obama mischaracterized, no doubt for pre-consummation consumption, the nature of the situation when he said in his Sunday statement,
… it will allow us to avoid default and end the crisis that Washington imposed on the rest of America.
“Washington” imposed the crisis? Are Republcans and Democrats—Washington—both to blame? Did Democrats threaten to start a fire that would see our economic house possibly burn to the ground? No, of course not, and Mr. Obama knows that. He’s pointed out the true culprits many times before, the arsonists on the hard, hard Right, aided and abetted by the wobbly-kneed John Boehner and the coldly-calculating political opportunist Mitch McConnell.
Mr. Obama obviously believes he cannot name names right now, before the thing is done, but it would have been better to say nothing at all about who imposed the crisis, if he didn’t feel free to put the blame where it belongs. There is enough public moral confusion about this issue without the President adding to it.
He also said this:
It ensures also that we will not face this same kind of crisis again in six months, or eight months, or 12 months. And it will begin to lift the cloud of debt and the cloud of uncertainty that hangs over our economy.
Well, it may not be exactly the “same kind of crisis,” but Americans will be hard-pressed to see the difference between this fiasco and the upcoming fight over the federal budget, with what will inevitably be threats of yet another government shutdown coming from Tea Party Republicans—uh, I meant, Washington.
And that means the cloud of uncertainty will still hang over our economy and our people.
Look, I understand why Mr. Obama made this deal at this stage in the game. He feels a personal responsibility as President for the people whose economic house Republicans are so willing to burn down. I get that, even as some on the left are calling him bad names and ridiculously claiming they will not vote for him again.
And I know why he resisted the odd constitutional options he had and the crazy talk about creating $1 trillion coins and other fantasies. If you think this frustrating foozle has been destabilizing, imagine if Obama did what some angry liberals have been urging him to do and simply went over the heads of the Congress in order to raise the debt limit.
In an instant, Republicans would plunge the country into a protracted constitutional crisis and the Tea Party placard-painting business—”IMPEECH THE KENYUN DIKTATER!—would be the hot buy until next November.
The problem is that Mr. Obama made a crucial decision earlier this year to move off his sensible position that using the rather habitual process of raising the debt ceiling was not the proper vehicle to achieve deficit reduction. He wanted, and should have continued to demand, a clean debt-ceiling bill.
Perhaps he thought his past vote in the Senate not to raise it would cripple his attempt to take a principled stand on a clean bill. Or, perhaps he genuinely saw what Republicans were doing as a way of forcing them to accept some revenue increases, which was a serious misread of the zealotry that poisons the Republican Party these days.
Who knows. We’ll have to wait for the post-Administration book.
For whatever reason, Mr. Obama decided to play the politics on Republican turf and they took full advantage of the home field. They perceived his strange strategy as a weakness and it empowered them. His decision to play their debt-ceiling game made them stronger.
As the more ideologically-crazed Republicans appeared absolutely willing to push the country into default, Mr. Obama retreated on the one thing—tax increases—that most of us had every reason to believe was essential to any deal he would eventually make.
And now if a goodly number of Republicans support the deal, perhaps half of each caucus, then the pressure is on Democrats to take the deal, too, or risk having the disaster blamed on them.
There was a time, before the decision to meet Republicans half past halfway, when many of us were urging the President to go ahead and have his Armageddon with Republicans now rather than later: No coupling of the debt ceiling with deficit reduction. Absent that, the alternative was to stand firm on the basic principle of fairness, which requires a balanced approach—budget cuts and up-front revenue increases—to address the debt problem.
Many of us believe he could have won that fight, at least in the eyes of the American people. And if Republicans would have gone ahead with their burn-it-down scheme, then they would have sealed their political fate for a generation, and perhaps The Man Who Killed Osama bin Laden would have been able to send bin Laden-like Tea Party Republicans to their proper home in the depths of a political Arabian Sea.
As it stands now, they live to plot more threats.