When President Obama dramatically took leave of the theatrics in Wednesday’s futile debt negotiations, news outlets predictably focused on the melodrama. Right wing pundits pounced on the President as churlish and panicky, with Rush Limbaugh painting a cartoonishly dismal picture:
“So the pressure mounts on the Republicans in the House, and so far they’re standing firm. I think Obama’s cracking, folks, I think he’s cracking up…. I thought this guy was Mr. Calm and Cool, and I thought this guy was the one who was the adult in the room. He’s none of what they told us he is and I believe Obama is starting to crack.”
Rush opened the segment by pushing his far-fetched theory that rating agency Moody’s is running the show, pushing Obama and Congressional Democrats to terrify voters with debt default doomsday scenarios, although Rush clearly thinks a default is no big deal. He also continues advancing the fanciful narrative of big, strong Republicans hanging tough and manhandling the “man-child” President Obama.
The truth is precisely the opposite (a handy rule of thumb if you must listen to Rush). Although it was apparently less newsworthy than Obama’s strategic withdrawal on Wednesday, Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor reportedly maintained utter silence during Thursday’s negotiations. It’s not entirely clear how and why Cantor was apparently neutered and muzzled before the big meeting with the President, but this development certainly seems to disperse Rush’s whimsical apparition of a rough and ready united Republican front, as do further eleventh-hour developments:
In a desperate and transparently political maneuver, Mitch McConnell is considering a shameful compromise to hand over to Obama the Congressional authority on raising the debt ceiling. Even anti-tax zealot Grover Norquist has offered a compromise that would permit closing corporate tax loopholes.
Where is the united front? Doesn’t the Tea Party Taliban realize that they have the upper hand, that President Man-Child is on the ropes? Shouldn’t budget fundamentalists like McConnell and Norquist be stiffening their resolve and preparing to deal Obama a death blow? The solution to this conundrum is that deep fractures are widening within the Republican Party. Furthermore, the true party power brokers may be overtly political ideologues masquerading as macroeconomic gurus, but they’re not complete idiots.
In terms of economics, there is no question in any sane mind that permitting a default on our National Debt would trigger a catastrophic global economic meltdown. Even if Main Street doesn’t universally grasp the enormity of such a catastrophe, Wall Street most certainly does. It’s only Tea Party crazies who refuse to accept reality.
For instance, Michele Bachmann has joined forces with fellow congenital idiots Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), and Rep. Steve King (R-IA) to propose painting the Titanic’s deck chairs red, white, and blue. They are promoting legislation that would ensure military personnel continue to receive paychecks even if the debt ceiling is not raised. “We cannot go on scaring the American people, and we need to be truthful,” Bachmann said. “I call on the president and (Treasury) Secretary (Timothy) Geithner to tell the truth.” The truth, apparently, is that we can maintain our creditworthiness by cutting off all spending other than military pay and Social Security and Medicare payments, and sending the balance of our tax revenues to China and other creditors. See how easy?
Paul Krugman notes that puzzled commentators are gradually coming to grips with the apparent lunacy of Republicans hell-bent on turning our national game of chicken into a national game of mutual assured destruction. “Has the G.O.P. gone insane?” they ask. Krugman’s answer: “Why, yes, it has.” However, the end game will most likely avert catastrophe, outrage Tea Partiers, and delegitimize the G.O.P. for decades to come.
The Republican Party is in fact hopelessly split between shrewd political operatives and opinion leaders such as John Boehner and Grover Norquist, and mouth-breathing crusaders such as Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin. The crusaders may feel they’ll win kudos from their ignorant fan base by holding firm, but they are also willing to fall on their swords if necessary in service to their crackpot ideals. The power brokers are not. They want to win elections, and they are now realizing that sticking to their guns is political suicide. They have allowed Tea Party whack jobs to back them up against the brick wall of default, and they are now quietly preparing to sneak past the mob and scamper to safety.
Can the Republican Party ignore the inarguable fact that defaulting on the debt or even trying to operate under the current debt ceiling would be catastrophic? Can they ignore the pleas from Wall Street and Beijing to grow up and submit to a compromise—any compromise? Can they ignore McConnell’s and Norquist’s last-ditch efforts to save face and avert upheaval and ruin? Can they ignore the fact that Mitt Romney (arguably the most moderate of the current crop of Republican Presidential candidates) leads in polls, while Michele Bachmann is widely regarded as an unelectable fringe candidate? Can they ignore the recent Quinnipiac poll that indicates more Americans trust Obama on the economy, think job creation is more important than cutting the deficit but support tax increases if necessary to stanch red ink, blame George W. Bush for our current economic woes, and would blame Congressional Republicans rather than Obama if the budget talks are unsuccessful? The answer is no, which is why Obama clearly holds the winning hand in this highest of high stakes poker game, and why he felt confident enough to tell Eric Cantor, “Don’t call my bluff. You know I’m going to take this to the American people.”
With his press conference Friday, President Obama has made good on his promise, solidifying his role as the adult in the room and reasserting his commitment to doing what everyone knows must be done. He has successfully made the case that he has been attempting to negotiate in good faith with stubborn buffoons, and that inflexible Tea Party ideals are simply inadequate to the task before us. Far from “cracking up,” he cracked a whip, reemphasizing the gravity of the situation, and deftly discrediting his detractors both within the official Republican Party structure and in the chattering class of right wing pundits. It’s often theorized that Obama is “playing chess while others are playing checkers,” but now we have proof.
In the end, some compromise will be reached, but by then it will be clear that Tea Party reactionaries have irreparably besmirched the Republican brand. Misinterpreting their 2010 “mandate,” Republicans nationwide have overreached and outraged their constituents. They have no choice now but to retreat, submit, and begin work concocting some face-saving narrative to appease Tea Party zombies while calming horror-struck moderates.
They have lost this battle, and in 2012, they will lose the war.
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