Saturday, July 30, 2011

Now What?

Now that we’ve basically wasted two weeks in this pointless exercise of coming up with a debt ceiling bill in the House that had to be rejiggered so many times to make the crazies happy that the final version couldn’t pass the laugh test only to have it die within seconds in the Senate, what’s next? Platinum coins? Kited checks? A late-night raid at Gringotts? (Watch out for the dragon!)

Aside from all the inside-the-Beltway juvenile behavior and tantrums, all the intricate economic measures and soothsaying from the portfolio managers and Wall Street denizens who vultch over the markets waiting for something to drop, there are millions of people who don’t know a hedge fund from a hedgehog or care about the hurt feelings of John Boehner but who rely on the government and its services to make it through their daily lives. If the checks don’t come, they are in real trouble. Everyone from the retired nurse in Boise, Idaho, on Social Security who budgets her monthly check down to the penny, to the little company in Waterville, Ohio, that is keeping their employees paid through a contract with the federal government to provide food to the local school system for Title I is counting on the money to be there next week.

The folks in the Tea Party say that we shouldn’t be so dependent on the government; that we should all be self-reliant and strong, and maybe this intentionally-manufactured crisis on their part is a good lesson on how we should wean ourselves away from it. That’s idiocy (not to mention breathtaking hypocrisy), and it demonstrates a basic lack of understanding of economic reality. No one is asking for a hand-out; the nurse earned her pension throughout her career and paid into it, and the company, like millions of other businesses in the country, is doing business with the government just like they’d do it with any other private business. It’s how our economy works.

We saw such rank stupidity from the Tea Party in microcosm when the auto industry was in trouble in 2009 and they said it would be a good thing if GM and Chrysler went belly-up; for one thing, it would be sweet revenge for the Chevette and the K-car. As in that case, they didn’t get it, and just like the auto business has a larger footprint beyond Detroit, a huge segment of the economy relies on providing goods and services to government-run facilities such as schools, hospitals, construction projects, road maintenance, utilities, airports, harbors, police and fire departments, and hundreds of other businesses. If they stop getting paid, then the employees don’t get paid, and then they’re not buying food at the grocery store, gas at the filling station, or paying their rent or mortgage. The ripples become a tsunami.

We have had plenty of lessons in hard times economically, most notably the Great Depression of the 1930’s, and the measures we have in place such as Social Security and Title I are what we came up with to help us through such times. Like it or not, this is how We The People decided how to run our country. We’ve also seen what “smaller government” brings us. It’s not Paradise.

What’s most galling and enraging is that the Republicans did this not because of a philosophical difference of opinion in macroeconomics. If that were the case, they wouldn’t have let President Bush run up the huge deficits he did or raise the debt ceiling all those times when they were in the majority. No, they did it out of pure spite and to try to ensure their political future. No one is naive to think that they wouldn’t do it, and given the chance, the Democrats, if they had any balls, would have played their political cards as well if it was a Republican in the White House. It happens all the time. But to bring it to the level of endangering the economic welfare of this nation and possibly the global economy is ratcheting it up to the level of bring a nuclear weapon to a mugging.

It’s one thing to demonize Muslims with hysteria about an Islamic center in lower Manhattan, scare the fools with stories about anchor babies in Arizona, and ostracize an entire segment of the population with horror stories about the wrath of God over marriage equality. But to intentionally wreck the economy because they hate the idea of a Democrat — and a black man — in the White House deserves swift and wrathful retribution.

They should be held accountable for this kind of terrorism, and a year from now, long after this moment of brinksmanship has passed, we should be reminding every voter of who it was that held the country hostage while they played with the nuke. Given the short attention span of the American public — oh, look, another white woman is in trouble — I don’t hold out a lot of hope, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do everything we can to limit their contribution to politics to calling in on C-SPAN or baying at the moon.