I’m sure that, like virtually everyone else, you are sick and tired of hearing the same worn out old metaphor related to the fiscal cliff. So, I’m changing it right now to sky diving without a parachute. Actually, that also seems like more of an appropriate image anyway, given what we are about to face with the upcoming fight in Congress related to the extension of the debt ceiling, as well as several other fiscal issues looming over the nation.
First of all, however, I have to overcome my own distaste when it comes to writing about the subject at all. How we as a nation can be so ill-informed and so misled as to potentially allow ourselves to default on our debt is beyond me. And I do place the blame squarely on those rigid, recalcitrant, unbending and unyielding Tea Party Republicans, who appear to be willing to sacrifice the entire country on the ersatz altar of their inflexible and uncompromising ideology.
How many times does it have to be explained to them that the debt ceiling has nothing to do with future spending? It’s about paying what Congress has already agreed to pay. But, of course, there’s the rub. They never agreed to it. They were against it from the get-go, and this is what they came to Washington to prevent in the first place. So, now it’s time for payback of another kind, political not financial. In other words it’s almost as if they want to bring the government down, in – what? — a vain and hopeless attempt at somehow remaking the country in their own deformed image?
I’m beginning to feel that the system we have of electing officials to govern us in the first place may be fatally flawed. It seems to me that our method of primary elections in particular has landed us with extremist of every stripe, but mostly those of the ultra-right, who find compromise a dirty word, and who are willing to do whatever it takes to get their own way. This includes holding the entire nation captive to their militant and radically immoderate points of view. Thus, a tiny fraction of revisionist zealots and extremists in the country may yet get to dictate to the 315,000,000 or so rest of us, who would prefer to find a way to a middle ground, where each side gets part of what it wants and what it believes to be fair.
Of course, I admit to being a believer in liberalism and in progressive values. If I weren’t, why would I be writing on a blog entitled “Two Old Liberals” in the first place? But I’m an even bigger and stronger believer in democracy, and American democracy is all about living in a pluralistic society, where people with varying points of view must find ways to coexist and together to share governance. I emphasize share in this context, because it is what so many fundamentalists are unwilling to do. They have somehow reached the erroneous conclusion that they have the answers to everything, that they know what is best in all circumstances for everyone, and they are more than willing to impose those beliefs on the rest of us. Sadly, this is true in the religious, as well as in the political realm, and even more sadly the two often go hand in hand.
What can be done about it all is another matter. I confess to being somewhat stymied, and I suppose that is exactly what the self-proclaimed Forces of Right probably want. Their bargaining strategy, if that’s the proper term, is to make the rest of us think they really are serious about pushing the country out of the plane, all the while yanking the parachute off of our backs. In other words, to speak non-metaphorically, they want us to think that they will allow the United States of America to default on its debts, thus pushing the country, and the world economy, into chaos and confusion. After all, for all of our foibles, the US is still the pillar of political and economic stability in the world. As such, what does everyone else do if we fall into some kind of political and fiscal anarchy?
The President’s approach seems to be to call their bluff, and I’m not sure exactly what else can be done. He is not, I don’t think, doing so simply to see if they are bluffing, however, but because he has been through all this before. He knows with whom he is dealing, and what they are capable of. And he is relying on the American people themselves to rise up and to make their voices heard. If enough of us raise enough of a hullabaloo, then maybe even the Republicans – or at least some of the more reasonable ones – will actually listen.
No one is saying, by the way, that the country does not have to look its debt crisis squarely in the eye and do something about it. It’s clear to most of us that we cannot keep living beyond our means. And a sixteen trillion dollar debt is very much beyond our means! Serious discussions have to take place in Washington and elsewhere to see how we can deal with this. And as always in human behavior, the answer usually is somewhere in the middle. In this case, that means both spending cuts and ways to create new government revenue. I’m not even speaking necessarily about new taxation, although that too has to be seen as a possibility. Additionally, the biggest spenders have to be looked at, namely the so-called entitlement programs and the military. But this is a much larger question, and an obviously more complicated one. One that will demand all of our fortitude and our honesty as a nation state.
In the meantime, however, incurred debts must absolutely be paid. That is how both the world and the financial markets work. Let us, therefore, not allow a few fanatics to hold the rest of us hostage. Let us make our voices heard, and remind Congress that bills have to be paid. Once we have shown ourselves, and everyone else, that we continue to be responsible citizens of the world, then perhaps we can begin to go about creating parachutes to ease our descent from other fiscal and political heights.