Bitter Medicine

At this point, it’s clear that congressional Republicans are not going to vote to raise the debt ceiling unless the Democrats sign off on one of their lunatic schemes to kick the rest of the props out from under the economy in exchange for keeping one prop intact.

Will Democrats, at long last, cave to Republican blackmail to avoid default? I can’t predict what they will do, but if I were a Democrat in Congress I’d say no. Because, first, the policies Republicans want as payment for their vote would be about as damaging to the country as default. And second, it would be political suicide. (Note that even if Dems choose to offer something based on Nancy Pelosi’s plan, I doubt the whackjobs will take it.)

A couple of law professors argue in the New York Times that the President should use the constitutional option — not necessarily based on the 14th Amendment — and raise the ceiling himself. I understand the President has expressed great reluctance to do this, although he hasn’t ruled it out. There doesn’t appear to be a clear consensus among constitutional scholars that he has the authority to do that.

And if he does do it, frankly, I think he’d take a huge political hit for it. I can think of about 97 different ways the Right could demagogue such a unilateral presidential action to death. And they’d get away with it because Americans would have been spared the effects of default.

The real disease that has infected the nation is not runaway debt but right-wing extremism. The debt itself is just a symptom of that. I recently came across a 2009 essay by Thom Hartmann that does a nice job explaining how Reaganomics paved the way for the the economic calamities of our time. Most of you already know all this, of course. But I think this sums it up:

After just the first decade of Reaganomics, we went from being the world’s largest exporter of manufactured goods to being the world’s largest importer; we went from being the world’s largest creditor to being the world’s largest debtor.

And U.S. economic policy ever after has been more or less run according to Reaganomic rules, not Keynesian rules. The exceptions were some of Bill Clinton’s policies that sweetened the economy for a time. But for the most part the “solutions” Washington comes up with to respond to any economic problem is to double down on the policies that caused the problem.

And with the current crop of looney-tune right-wing extremists standing in for Republicans in Congress, think quadruple-down. It’s like they’re trying to prevent forest fires by filling forests with dry twigs and lit cigarettes.

Let’s face it: Until most of the extremists are run out of government, we’re just going to be bouncing from one unprecedented economic crisis to another, and every “solution” will make the United States poorer and more dysfunctional than it was before.

We’ve already gone too far down that road to have any hope of restoring the U.S. as the dominant economic powerhouse it was in most of the 20th century. We’ll be doing well to remain an average first-world industrialized nation, economically speaking.

Americans on the whole are not learning any lessons. The Pew Forum came out with a survey saying that the GOP is making gains among poor whites and young whites, two groups who should be fleeing Republicans like bats out of hell if they had any idea what is really going on. I agree that Dems haven’t done enough to earn their loyalty, but for the young and poor of any color to give their support to the Republican Party really is the sheep giving support to the wolves.

So I say let the damn shoe drop. Let all the consequences be felt. And if Americans remain stupid enough to return the whackjobs to Congress next year, never mind turn the White House over to them, then I’ll say the fight is over. America is done. But if there is any chance the bitter medicine could flush the nutzoids out and send them back under their rocks for a couple of decades, I say let’s take it.

22 thoughts on “Bitter Medicine

  1. It’s my dear wife’s birthday, so I have vowed to stay cheerful. At the risk of sounding like some sort of “fill in the blank-bot” to whatever trolls lurk in the shadows. I think you’ve summed it up nicely.

    I have no gift for the “horse race” strategies of politics. They tire me out. I do enjoy observing the big picture and human nature. This situation has me frustrated and worried beyond the capacity for rational thought. So, I’d prefer a quick coup de grace to the protracted torture. For us, as for many Americans this is a perfect storm brewing. Our savings, our livelihood and any security we have may well be shattered. I expect the many “mom and pop” businesses that make up the more pleasant part of our locality will go under. If this happens it will not be a pretty picture. It will probably not be long before some of our goats begin to “disappear”. That will be just as well, because very shortly we won’t have the resources to feed them. We’ll be halfway to “Mad Max”.

    So, back to some reasonably level headed bit of (denial) hope. If Obama takes the “Constitutional Option”, he still has a chance at redemption. The conservative wing of the Supreme Court is strongly corporate. I expect some sort of ruling by the court would be in order to determine if his actions were Constitutional and the corporate interests don’t want this to happen any more that most of the still sane. If he has to go that route, he has a slim chance to be the one who saved America, and to be seen as such.

  2. Key question: Who was elected President? Obama or Kantor?

    Ad hominem question: Which one looks like he just can’t wait to get off by himself and pull the wings off some more flies?

  3. “A couple of law professors”

    That’s one way to put it, but I think it’d be more informative to note that these profs are Eric Posner and Adrian Vermeule, who are notorious supporters of the unitary executive. I haven’t heard any sane scholar say that Obama has the authority to ignore the debt ceiling, and the few that have spoken (notably Balkin and Tribe) have said he does not have that authority.

    • notorious supporters of the unitary executive.

      Yes, of course.

      I haven’t heard any sane scholar say that Obama has the authority to ignore the debt ceiling, and the few that have spoken (notably Balkin and Tribe) have said he does not have that authority.

      I haven’t heard a lot of opinion one way or another. I had read Tribe’s opinion, but I don’t necessarily agree with it just because he said it. I seem to remember disagreeing with Tribe in the past about something, but I don’t remember what. Anyway, I’d like to hear from more experts on this.

  4. The last 30 years have been like watching a train wreck in extremely slo-mo.

    I remember having conversations with then still rational Conservatives .
    They were sooooo enthusiastic about Reagans first tax cuts. And I asked them, since at the time the Federal government paid for a large chunk of education and transportation, what they thought would happen to their state and local taxes?
    ‘Oh, they’ll go lower, too.’
    I tried to explain to them then that if they expected the same level of services, they had to be paid by sombody, and that the cost would “trickle” down to them, and be much more inefficient and costly than if the Fed’s did it.
    They couldn’t understand that when you pooled money from your town, county, or state for education and transportation, as opposed to nationally, that the quality and quantity would go down, while the price went up. I tried to us an insurance analogy – the larger the pool, the more money to cover shared risks, and to move money from a place that maybe didn’t need something for a couple of more years, to a place where a school or road HAD to be built or fixed now.
    Then, as now, they didn’t get it.
    No, they believed that Reagans tax cuts would trickle down and lower everyone’s taxes on a state and local level as well. And these were the people who are supposed to be smart with money, I thought? Who was going to do this? Do they believe in a Tax Fairy?
    And it proceeded to go downhill from there. A non-fiction, reality party v. a fiction and ‘if you clap hard enough’ party.

    And so we are left with a political system where the Democrats, in order to get anything done at all, have had to compromise over the years by moving further and further right, as the Republicans have grown more and more reactionary and stubborn.
    Well, there’s not much further right to go.
    And the Republicans have dug in their heels, like rabid autistic children, and have decided to completely stop the process because they can’t even accept “Yes” to something that they proposed only a short time before. Their need for victory at any cost, and the annihilation of this President and the Democratic Party is, in one word – insatiable!
    The Repubicans have grown more and more brick-like, and the Democrats have gotten to be more and more like Jello. And when Jello collides with a brick, it isn’t often that Jello wins. Maybe Jello should say, ‘Enough! You’re Hell-bent on ruining this country, and there’s not much we can do to stop you anymore. You, Brick, if you want to save this country, YOU’LL have to bend! We’ll do our best, as usual, to pick up the pieces of the havoc and carnage you leave behind.’

    At this point, our economy is getting worse and worse every year – just 10 short years when we were pretty much fully employed, and looking at surpluses as far the eye could see. Well, the SCOTUS saw to that.
    Maybe a real shock because of this debt ceiling fiasco will wake people up enough to prevent more “Shock Doctrine” steps from finally tanking this nation, and letting far right religious and economic reactionaries turn this nation into what I’ve been talking about forever – “The Dominionist Christian Fascist States of America.

    We spent decades defending this nation from enemies without, and didn’t see the Conservative Fifth Columnists determined to eliminate Democrats, even if it was at the cost of representative democracy itself.
    All of this was done with a MSM that didn’t bother to inform people of what was happening in the news, because news wasn’t entertaining enough.
    And the people grew more stupid, ignorant, angry and intolerant.

    And so this nation faces disaster soon not because someone else outsmarted us, but because we out-stupided ourselves.

  5. Lynne has said that we’re too stupid to survive. I’m not sure stupidity is what afflicts us. I am becoming more and more sure that we are too fearful to survive. The onset of fear in us humans is concomitant with the shutting down of thinking. We quite literally lose the ability to think. How else to explain the seemingly blind following the “nutzoids” (great word, maha) have managed to pull together in support of their death-to-the-republic agenda.

    Republicans have done and have been doing for years a bang-up job of instilling fear in the American people – most pointedly in fear of ‘the other.’ Whether the ‘other’ is a foreign terrorist, an atheist, a socialist, a ‘black’ man, a liberal, a gay, a Muslim… think about it.

    I welcome any arguments which will make my ‘take’ dead wrong.

  6. If the current American electorate were capable of learning lessons from taking bitter medicine, the 2010 election results would not have been good for the party that has always fought to deregulate the banksters and give power to the corporate thieves who brought us the Great Recession.

    And, sadly, we had no one around swinging a 2×4 upside the heads of the mass of morons to make them pay attention, as we have had in the past. No Pecora Commission, just as we never had a Truman Commission for the Iraqi debacle. The man with the bully pulpit only gets visibly mad when the GOP won’t let him make a deal to the right of the (already right-of-center) Gang of Six, and has seemingly forgotten that people need jobs, that our bridges are falling down, and that Social Security has nothing to do with our current deficit.

    Seems to me like we’ve already taken the bitter medicine, and the American electorate, instead of coming to its senses, asked for another couple spoonfuls.

  7. I can’t disagree with anything you say, Felicity. You are quite right about the fear permeating the environment. What I also see is the inability of a huge part of the population to think for itself, in even a tiny way. Republicans certainly have taken advantage of this – TV, radio. There are parts of the country I’ve driven across where all you can listen to is religious programming and hate-talk shows. Nothing else.
    We have to stop sitting on our hands and waiting for the best in people to pop out somehow. What we should do, I don’t know. I tend to agree with the scientist who recently commented (sorry, I’m horrible with names) that human brains have not evolved to keep up with our technology and that we are still back in the Stone Age, keeping watch out for lions.

  8. I can’t argue with your argument, but like everyone, I fear what will happen, not only in the near term, but for years to come. This is one of those major events that will consign the memory of triple AAA rated America as a Once Great Nation firmly into the minds of the old, and them alone.

    Great article on some of the inside baseball between Boehner (actually playing the sane guy) and Cantor, the Tea Party’s annointed. Synopsis, if Boehner doesn’t do the Tea Party’s bidding, he loses his job as Speaker.

  9. Lynne – Here in California we have had for years two, separate voting blocks – the very Blue Coast (liberal) and the very Red Valley (conservative.) To echo your experience of ‘driving across’, when driving up the valley from LA, the programming coming out of my car radio consists almost solely of hate radio and country-western music the minute I’m out of the range of LA radio and into Valley radio.

    Evidence would have it that our brains have not evolved – a very depressing, since how can brains be made to evolve, thought. As a matter of fact I would suggest that our brains have devolved. Maybe we’re no more than obeying the law of Thermodynamics which says, roughly, everything goes from order to disorder and the more disorder the more entropy takes over. (I’ve entertained that discouraging possibility for years.)

  10. I keep coming back to the idea that taking Obama down is the sole purpose of all this nonsense. The economy be damned if that’s what it takes to achieve that goal..I also see it as racially motivated.. maybe that’s wrong of me to think that America hasn’t grown in tolerance and acceptance because after all, we did elect Obama, but something is gnawing at me that tells me a big part of the Repugs campaign against Obama is the fact that he is black.

    I’m not trying to play a race card by expressing my feelings…That’s just my sense of things…And I’m pretty sure my intuition is not far off the mark.

  11. Felicity – I often observe the same thing when leaving LA (and heading out toward “the Outback”). But I don’t think it has anything to do with evolution.

    Before going vegan, I used to eat (too much) at the local Hometown Buffet. Many of their restaurants are decorated with large numbers of Norman Rockwell prints – veritable chain-restaurant museums of his artwork, much of which was done during the 40s. People at the time – including most of the subjects of his paintings – had a living memory of the horrors of the Depression. The kind of propaganda that people in rural areas are exposed to today, 24/7 would be fiercely ridiculed by many of the subjects in Rockwell’s art.

    Or, watch The Grapes of Wrath, an old movie starring Henry Fonda, based on the Steinbeck classic. In that film, government is portrayed as rescuing the common man.

    What’s failed today is liberalism (see Chris Hedges for the details), and its ability to articulate a powerful message to counter the right wing propaganda. The wingnuts seized the narrative beginning with Reagan, and no one so far has effectively countered it. With each year that goes by, their grip on the national megaphone has only consolidated, and the country dives deeper into the ditch.

    I had high hopes, that Barack Obama with his amazing oratorical skills and his high IQ, would’ve known that message and communication was the critical chokepoint, the fulcrum on which everything would turn. I’ve mentioned many times that when our system was on its knees due to years of conservative mismanagement, he could have turned much of this around by simply using his voice. We were at a critical tipping point, and he either didn’t recognize it, or was not emotionally constituted to challenge the status quo.

    Until mass belief in the dominant narrative (Reaganism) is changed – the assumptions that are behind nearly every message in the media, and which as yet go unchallenged – nothing is going to change.

    Further, change will only come from the younger generation. The older ones, the true believers in Reaganism will go to their graves believing this, despite all facts to the contrary. We’ve seen how their minds are impervious to logic and data. Change must come from the younger generation who will experience first hand the failures of the beliefs of their elders.

  12. Swami – I don’t see how it can be anything but racially motivated given that the rhetoric and actions expressed and taken against Obama by the Republicans are irrational – racism is irrational.

    moonbat – I agree that the young are really our only hope – however, if my university educated granddaughters are any indication, I’m afraid the non-political young turned off the ‘news’ a few years ago out of pure disgust and an almost inability to understand the thinking of their elders.

    Take ‘gay marriage’, fore instance, what the hell is wrong with that say the girls. You’re arguing about birth control? What the hell is that all about. Abortion? You abort unwanted fetuses not babies, they say. It can really get ridiculous, like “some of my best friends are French,” and what’s wrong with that again? French fries are now freedom fries? You’ve got to be kidding. “You’re dating a Muslim?” Is there something wrong with ‘dating’ a Muslim, they ask?

    Really, they’ve got it right. We are so caught up in trivia, sort of like spending all our waking moments trying to drive a camel through the eye of a needle while we strain at driving a gnat…that’s not quite right, but my brain has started to atrophy.

  13. Felicity,
    The young people I’m close to are fed up with all the crap also.
    My daughter has two gay friends, a Muslim and a Jewish friend, and plenty of hispanic friends. One Muslim friend is a lesbian, and one hispanic boy is gay, and both are brilliant students, as is the Jewish girl. Things are quite different than they were 20 yrs ago.I think that takes a lot of pressure off the kids, but pressure comes in other ways;they are far more goal oriented than my generation was, and they have a huge need to succeed. They also are aware of politics, and are strongly liberal, getting their news from Stewart and Clobert (and the internet).

  14. Claudius: Let all the poisons that lurk in the mud hatch out.

    (accidentally posted this in the Oslo thread… Mea Culpa)

  15. The question is what voters will do when the economy goes over a cliff. Nobody knows if ours will, but the prospect of a default might do it. And that might cause a clear majority of voters to pull in the same direction (as opposed to the habitual schizophrenia of divided government we voters love).

    There is something to glean from history. FDR kept a democratic majority in Congress (House & Senate) for 12 years. In the decade prior, Coolege had a republican majority in both the House & Senate for all his six years. Hoover was part of the College team. He had a republican majority in the Senate for all 4 years and a split House, 2 years republican majority and 2 years democrats. But generally, in the decade before FDR took office, the federal government was all republican. In the 12 years after, the federal government was all democratic. Its the most stark ‘flip’ of party control in American history. The Great Depression changed a lot of voters minds.

    The Great Depression was global. At the same time it caused a shift from conservatism to liberal policies in America, the economic trauma in Europe brought about fascism and Hitler. So its by no means certain that a new depression will change voting habits to liberal. It depends on who is perceived as the scapegoat and who is perceived as a potential liberator.

  16. Swami, the race card IS for damn sure being played — by the Republicans through the subterfuge of concern for debt and constitutionality as masks to prevent Obama from being President.

  17. and every “solution” will make the United States poorer and more dysfunctional than it was before.

    I’m picking up vibes of Newt Gingrich in that statement.. Why is that?

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