There are times I want to grab some tea party folk by the neck and try and shake some sense in them. Many of them are, indeed, unreasonable and illogical. Advocating not raising the debt ceiling, forcing the government to cut about 40% of the budget in one year, may not be terrorism but they might as well support detonating an atom bomb in New York City considering the similar effect it would have on the economy. You don’t snatch a trillion and a half dollars out of the economy and not see a collapse of some kind. And if it is Gotterdammerung they seek, let them self-immolate and achieve their irrational goals that way.
But really, it is ridiculous to call this a “Tea Party Downgrade.” There was never, ever a chance that the debt ceiling wouldn’t be raised. Less than 100 tea partiers in the House and a few in the Senate could never have blocked the Congress from raising the debt limit. In fact, it was useful for both sides to use that non-existent threat in order to try and get their way.
The 11th hour nature of the debt deal was pre-ordained. Both sides were going to take the talks to the absolute limit before papering over their differences and reaching an agreement. This is the way things are done in Washington — pandering to both bases, both sides playing politics to the hilt, until at the last possible moment, order is restored and a deal is inked.
Right now, a gigantic game of “Pretend” is being played by those who are blaming the tea party for what appears to be a political decision by S&P to lower our credit rating. Both sides are elevating the tea party far beyond their actual influence, pretending that they were obstructionist hooligans who almost caused a catastrophe. Or, in the case of Republicans, well meaning activists whose whims had to be catered to on the spending issue lest Boehner and other Republicans end up being primaried by tea party candidates. This is nonsense. The Tea Party doesn’t have that kind of electoral clout. And while they may score a victory here and there (Senator Lugar seems especially vulnerable), their candidates were soundly defeated in primaries against most GOP incumbents in 2010. (They fared much better in open primaries but only 32% of Tea Party backed candidates won in the general election.)
Pretending what isn’t so in this case was extremely useful to both sides; it gave Boehner an excuse to rule out tax increases and gave Obama a foil upon which he could impale the Republicans while agreeing to a deal without an increase in taxes. Obama, running for re-election, knows full well that raising taxes on anybody - even the rich - is bad politics in an election season. It is not surprising that he “caved” on the tax issue — a stratagem, the logic of which has escaped his more rabid liberal supporters.
I can’t believe that John Boehner didn’t know that no deal he came up with would satisfy the radical libertarians and far right wackos who supported sending the American economy to guillotine. I predicted back in May that there was no deal save balancing the budget now, today, that would placate the extremists who are the most visible members (but not a majority) of the tea party. In fact, if they supported any agreement, it would be the end of them. The Tea Party exists to be contrarians, naysaying is their lifeblood. They cannot exist as majoritarians. The movement would collapse under its own internal contradictions if they ever did achieve power. How could a movement that is, at bottom, anti-government actually run the government?
Neither can I believe that President Obama didn’t realize the same, exact, thing. Thus, this game of Pretend where both sides brought us to the brink, playing out their political games, all the while knowing full well they would come to some kind of arrangement - even if, as it turned out, that the agreement was largely meaningless as a deficit reduction deal.
We are not going to address our deficit problems until our economy is a smoking ruin. Every European nation currently at or near default never addressed their problems either and are now paying for the fact that it is not in the nature of democracies to deal with such intractable issues. Democracy is about consensus and compromise. But the politics that fleshes out a democratic form of government is, unfortunately, made up of politicians, freely elected by the people, who can be unelected in a heartbeat if they were to inflict the kind of pain that will be necessary to solve our spending problems.
The Tea Party doesn’t care about the pain. Like small children, they know what they want and they want it now. But this only makes them juvenile delinquents, not terrorists. They might get some credit for altering the conversation in Washington to reflect the reality that we have a spending problem, but their unrealistic solutions should receive our disapprobation.
There is no way to get spending under control without cutting entitlements and raising taxes. The longer we wait, the higher the taxes and the more we’ll have to cut. It’s a matter of arithmetic now. The administration’s own estimates have us running up $9 trillion more in debt over the next ten years. And that’s with pie in the sky estimates of growth and the nonsensical notion that interest rates won’t rise, thus massively increasing the amount we pay to service our debt.
Within this coming decade, the dollar will no longer be the world’s reserve currency, we will probably be downgraded further, we will experience at least another recession - or two - and since neither side has the answer to the crisis, we will probably see a string of one term presidents and control of the legislature see-sawing back and forth every two to four years.
And then? Terra Incognito as the ancient mariners used to call uncharted waters. If I’m lucky, I won’t live to see it.