An Unbecoming Game of Chicken
About the best that can be said of the one-sided new debt-ceiling deal is that Tuesday came and went and the world didn't end.
Beyond that, there is little reason for celebration - unless it's the kind of relief the innocent parties might feel upon being at least tentatively liberated from an ugly hostage situation.
That's pretty much what we've just been through: a hostage standoff in which the full faith and credit of the United States of America was tied up and held captive in a basement somewhere by radical congressional forces who refused to compromise until their own unyielding ideological ransom demands had been met.
In the end, the Obama administration and Democratic congressional leaders, who had held out for a reasonably balanced economic package that included increased tax revenues from the rich as well as cuts in social programs benefiting the rest of us, simply caved.
A Lopsided 'Compromise'
The result is a monumentally unbalanced package that's all cuts and no new revenues - in spite of warnings from many of the country's best economic thinkers, who say cutting government spending is exactly the wrong thing to be doing in dire times like these.
Be that as it may, what columnist Paul Krugman bemoaned as "Obama's disastrous surrender" seems certain to produce bad short- and long-term social and political consequences in addition to any economic ones. A dangerous precedent has been set, an unmistakable message sent: If you're willing to be ruthless and put all civility and compromise (a dirty word now) aside, if you're willing to put your own political dogma first and place the national welfare at stake, then you can get your way.
Sorry Spectacle in World's Eyes
The raising of the debt ceiling, however you might think about it, has been a routine event dozens of times over the years - including a half-dozen times under President Ronald Reagan. Never before have any political forces seen fit to hold it hostage in this way for purely political reasons.
The contending parties and sub-parties were eyeball-to-eyeball for a long time, and it was unquestionably President Obama who blinked.
In analyzing the president's motivation, one TV commentator invoked the biblical Solomonic dispute over the baby. This observer compared the Democrats to the real mother, who loved the baby enough to give up her claim in the face of the false claimant, who wanted to win so badly she was willing to see it cut in half just to get her way.
That may be far-fetched. But in the final days, as the deadline loomed, Obama fell oddly silent and it became largely an internecine struggle within the Republican Party. House Speaker John Boehner, who at one point was looking practically moderate (another dirty word), himself ended up surrendering to his party's own reckless tea party members, who wrap themselves in the flag while doing their country great mischief.
Among the many consequences of this protracted, all-too-public spectacle is that it has given a very black eye to a country that has already lost too much standing in the view of the rest of the world. As days have dragged on and displays have grown more childish, the greatest nation in the world has begun to look more and more like some kind of posturing banana republic.
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