By Steve Klinger
This blog has been fulminating for a couple of months (or maybe since the midterm elections) as I watch the spectacle in Washington that the President elevates by describing as a three-ring circus. As any circusgoer or participant well knows, meticulous planning and coordination go into every circus stop at every town, and every act, from trapeze to juggling to animal routines. This is not to be confused with the dysfunctional frenzy in the Beltway.
The debt-ceiling crisis has in common with the circus that it is built on role-playing and enacted to mesmerize the audience, but the Washington version goes beyond entertainment and has no logical script other than the objective of maximizing political gain on behalf of those seeking financial gain.
In the final days of this trumped-up crisis, an artificial day of reckoning that only further denigrates government in the eyes of the populace, extemporaneous grandstanding rules the show. Republicans hold government, the President, the Democrats in Congress and the America people hostage in a cynical and hypocritical game of brinksmanship, alleged to be about controlling deficit spending but in reality about completing the redistribution of wealth from the middle class to the plutocracy.
Democrats have made strategic mistakes; for far too long they have lost the media-driven battle of public opinion, as usual being unable to match the Republicans’ ability to manipulate the victims themselves (Tea partiers, blue-collar workers, retirees, struggling homeowners) into orchestrating their own economic and political demolition.
The most offensive aspect of the whole thing has to be the collusion among the triumvirate of greed-driven plutocrats, co-opted politicians and mainstream-media talking heads whose rank hypocrisy knows no shame. Correspondents and news anchors talk about spreading blame and purport to provide a “balanced” perspective in lamenting that the sides can’t seem to compromise. Public opinion polls are twisted into confirming that the frustrated public just wants the two parties to reach an agreement. A problem almost entirely generated by wartime spending, Wall Street excess and self-serving deregulation has been allowed to be portrayed as one of runaway “entitlement” spending and false comparisons to balancing household budgets.
Commentators talk ad nauseum about compromise and deal-making. To our woe, the smartest guy in the room is the President, who has brainwashed himself into believing the compromise dictum, though he should have known a month into his presidency that “compromise” and “bipartisan” are code words for a strategy to prevent his re-election, even at the risk of destroying the nation.
Better-informed observers than I have chronicled the steadfast refusal of virtually the entire Republican delegation (especially in the current House) to compromise, while the Senate has elevated the filibuster to a new art from – all to thwart Obama and the Democrats, no matter how centrist or even right-leaning their agenda. But Obama can’t get the C-word out of his head and persists in the mindset of some self-styled ambassador instead of the leader and the agent for change many of us thought we were electing.
He has already capitulated on his principles regarding everything from the environment to single-payer health care, torture and secret rendition, drone attacks, national security, immigration, and is now willing to send Medicare down the slippery slope to pay the rightwing ransom in a scenario that is entirely of their making.
What he needs to do is explode the myth of equal blame and expose the total hypocrisy and cynicism, his re-election hopes be damned (though ironically they might well be advanced if he showed an iota of leadership). At this eleventh hour he needs to give Congress a very short leash to reach a workable agreement on a debt-ceiling extension and a package of spending cuts plus revenue-enhancement measures that will settle the issue through the 2012 elections. He needs to draw a line in the sand.
If no deal is reached in another two or three days, he needs to invoke the 14th Amendment, declare a state of emergency and extend the debt ceiling by executive decree. There is much Democratic support for exactly such a course in the absence of a deal. The Republicans will scream bloody murder, but let them. They can’t lie, posture and manipulate any more than they already are. If the House wants to deliberate impeachment proceedings, so be it; at least it will give them something to do. If the courts must get involved, let them; they can’t be any less rational than the Republican leadership in Congress. If it costs Obama his re-election, he should realize that’s a better alternative than allowing the nation to slip into default and bring disaster on the economy and the American people.
He just might find an unexpected reaction – a groundswell of support from a nation that decisively elected a president to lead, not follow.