The Debt Ceiling and the Sabotage of Government

Politics is the art of the possible.

Otto von Bismarck, 1867

The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.

Mitch McConnell, after the midterm elections of November 2010

In the wake of the 2008 electoral victory by Barack Obama and the Democrats, there was much discussion about what this meant for the Republican party. Was it inevitable they would have to become more liberal to keep in touch with changing demographics? Even the Conservative commentator  Fred Barnes suggested post-election that it may be time to “elevate moderates to positions of leadership.”

Subsequent to the election, moderates have been largely rejected by the base of the Republican party. Michael Steele was chased out of his seat as head of the RNC, even as Republicans rode to victory in the midterm elections. House and Senate leaders John Boehner and Mitch McConnell have often been derided as too lenient to Obama by right-wing bloggers and talk radio.

Instead of trending to capture Hispanics and young voters, the GOP decided to embrace their Ayn Rand-loving ideological roots. The Tea Party evolved as a protest movement against spending, taxes, healthcare, and, most of all, Barack Obama. While it’s obvious that the genesis of this movement is riddled with a healthy layer of corporate-financed Astroturf, it cannot be denied that it does represent the purest distillation of popular Conservative political thought that we’ve seen in our lifetimes. The economic realism of Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon has been purged from their history books to the disappointment of some Conservatives. But to today’s most prominent voices, it is Conservatism uncensored–and the message led to their sacking of the House of Representatives.

The Tea Party itself is not a bad thing. It is very good for Republicans to have this debate within their party and with moderates and Liberals. Ron Paul’s small-government anti-war Libertarianism is an intellectual movement that deserves to be considered and should be welcomed within the political arena.

But sober, reasoned voices of the Tea Party that genuinely want to have a back-and-forth debate about the future of this country have been drowned out. They’ve been drowned out by the likes of Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh, who  have hijacked the movement and turned it into a personality-driven article of faith that is both rigidly uncompromising and emotionally charged.

Fast forward to the debt ceiling debate. Under previous presidents, Bush and Reagan included, the debt ceiling has been raised with a moderate amount of consternation.

This country now possesses the strongest credit in the world. The full consequence of a default–or even the serious prospect of default–by the United States are impossible to predict and awesome to contemplate….The risks, the costs, the disruptions, and the incalculable damage lead me to but one conclusion: the Senate must pass this legislation before the Congress adjourns.

Ronald Reagan, 1983

Republicans today argue that times have changed. Reagan’s “principles” would support their agenda, even if his actions didn’t. George W. Bush and the Republicans who ran both branches of Congress weren’t to blame because “9/11 changed everything.” Indeed, the debt has reached dizzying levels and it needs to be addressed. But why now? Why pick this battle when the economy is “cratering,” as John McCain might say? Why put a gun to the head of the United States’ AAA bond rating when higher interest rates could result (even the S&P favors the Reid plan over Boehner’s)? Why remain so intransigent on tax hikes for the wealthy when their share of America’s riches has risen so dramatically in the last 30 years?

There is no seriousness in the way Republicans are approaching this issue. There is, as Conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks noted, “no sense of moral decency” on the part of Republicans in Congress. The offers made by President Obama and Democrats in Congress average about 3 to 1 in the ratio of spending cuts to revenues. It is the deal of the century, and by any classic definition of “Conservative,” it is a gigantic victory for the Tea Party and for Republicans.

But Republicans are less interested in getting a good deal than they are at breaking the will of Barack Obama, and they are willing to take the American economy hostage to do just that. Mitch McConnell himself, as well and scores of other Republicans, have stated that the most important thing for them to accomplish is the ruination of President Obama. Being elected to office brings with it a responsibility to govern, and the act of governing necessarily includes the need to compromise, especially when your party only holds one branch of Congress. It is as if there were three people negotiating over how to divide a cake and one of them insisted on taking it all as a matter or principle.

McConnell floated the idea recently of allowing Obama to raise the debt ceiling himself while Congress passed an opposition bill that Obama would inevitably veto. Rather than take a great deal for his party, lowering the debt by trillions, he believed it more important to save political face and have the debt limit raised without any Republican support behind it so he and his cohorts could shirk any responsibility. It is one of the most craven, cynical acts in the history of politics, and tells us all we need to know about what the Republicans in Congress are about.

What is it in the heart of today’s Republican that drives them to such a level of inflexibility? Is it merely rigid idealism or is it a deep-seated political urge to destroy Obama at all costs? In fact, the two are one in the same, and it is especially accentuated by the fact that Obama ran as a uniter and an admirer of Ronald Reagan. By their definition, ANY act of compromise with Obama is a concession to him and is by definition an expansion of government–another step toward Socialism. If they are completely unwilling to compromise, why not go all-out? If every statement or offer is just an act of Kabuki theatre designed for political expediency, why show restraint? Restraint is suicide in the current Conservative echo-chamber, and these people want to keep their jobs and get re-elected.

For all of the criticism the mainstream media receives from the Right, no political group is more heavily influenced by their cadre of media elites than the Republicans.

It’s worth noting that for all the conservative obsession with the dreaded Mainstream Media, it is really the Republican party that is far more in thrall to its pet media organizations. A Democratic plan proposal can survive the disapproval of the New York Times. But Rush Limbaugh has veto power over the GOP as now constituted.

It’s incredible, it’s self-defeating, it’s absurd … but it’s the way it is.

David Frum, Frum Forum

In a remarkably titled blog post by Erick Erickson of, he states:

In the past 48 hours I have had call after call after call from members of the United States Congress. They’ve read what I’ve written. They agree. But they feel the hour is short and the end is nigh.

So some are calling looking for alternatives. Some are calling looking for energy. Many are calling looking for absolution.

And so I address them and put it here so you can see my advice.

Erick Erickson, The Absolution I Cannot Give,

Why are members of Congress calling a Republican blogger on the phone to seek “absolution?” Could you ever imagine a Democrat doing this with Markos Moulitsas? Or Moulitsas having the balls to actually publish this fact? It is absolutely incredible, and the “lamestream media” would have a field day if a site like Daily Kos displayed even a fraction of the obvious influence that right-wing bloggers have.

So here we are. Obama and Boehner have made their speeches to America on this evening, the 25th of July, and the thought cannot be ignored: the best way to reduce the size of government is to run it like a crackhead and then point to the carnage as evidence.  The small-government movement prospered under Bush thanks largely to his failure of leadership. For many, moments like Katrina only confirmed the Conservative view that government was useless. And to drill this idea even further into the heads of the American people, their behavior regarding the debt ceiling is appeasing their zookeepers like Limbaugh and Erickson while significantly eroding the foundations of America’s trust in their government.

I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.

Grover Norquist

The role today’s Republicans play in government is akin to letting Casey Anthony teach Kindergarten. If the American people speak loud enough, the Tea Party will ultimately fail. But if Republicans continue to work unfettered from the inside to sow the seeds of our government’s destruction, the consequences may be difficult to undo.


  1. it is a shame that with all the media on our favor we could not!put the right candidate on the balot! the one we have has a very limited chance of wining an election?

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