Monday, July 25, 2011

Nowhere Fast

After a weekend of meetings in the White House and on Capitol Hill, we are still no closer to a deal on the debt ceiling than we were on Friday night.

Mr. Reid, the Senate’s top Democrat, was trying on Sunday to cobble together a plan to raise the government’s debt limit by $2.4 trillion through the 2012 elections, with spending cuts of about $2.7 trillion that would not touch any of the entitlement programs that are dear to Democrats or raise taxes, which is anathema to Republicans.

President Obama could endorse such a plan, even though it would fall far short of the ambitious goal of deficit reduction and entitlement changes that he says are necessary to shore up the nation’s finances.

At the White House on Sunday evening, Mr. Obama spent about an hour meeting in the Oval Office to try to hash out details of the Democratic proposal with Mr. Reid and the House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi. The two emerged from the meeting with nothing to say to the throngs of reporters who had been encamped there for the third consecutive weekend, awaiting an agreement on the debt ceiling.

But administration and Congressional officials said that during the meeting, Mr. Obama and the Democratic leaders had resolved to hold firm against any short-term agreement that did not raise the debt ceiling beyond next year’s presidential elections.

Each side accused the other of playing politics; each side tried to come up with a plan that would not totally alienate their base of voters; each side tried to come up with something to say on the Sunday morning chat shows that would go viral on the blogs to keep the pressure on the other; and each side tried to come up with a solution that would prevent their respective leaders from being painted as too conciliatory to the other side because, after all, the most important thing is that they appear reasonable while the other side is painted as the lunatic hostage-taker.

The offers and the counter-offers are getting to the point where it’s hard to keep track of them. The Democrats sound like they’re on the verge of giving the GOP everything they want — huge cuts with no revenue — and still the Republicans aren’t buying it.

What this saga does is emphasize just how much of a gap there is between the Democrats and the Republicans, not just on this particular issue, but on everything. And it’s not just ideology that’s doing it. It’s visceral.

During the Bush administration, the right wing used to accuse the Democrats of Bush Derangement Syndrome: that they hated George W. Bush for everything he did, including the way he got into office, and used every opportunity, every malapropism, every little thing he did to mock him and try to destroy him. There was a lot of that, but then, when the subject provides such rich fodder and virtually invites it, it’s hard to refuse. And while there were a lot of policy differences and a lot of strong words that came out of the years of the Bush administration from the progressives and the Democrats, it was mere child’s play compared to the vitriol and unvarnished hatred that we’re seeing as a matter of course from the right wing and the Republicans.

Where the Democrats and the liberal blogosphere were snarky and enjoyed the late-night monologue fodder at the expense of Mr. Bush, the Republicans have made hatred of Barack Obama their party platform. They have codified their Obama Derangement Syndrome into the legislative process to the point that they are willing to wreck the economy, turn back decades of environmental progress, deny women control over their own bodies, destroy nearly a century of progress in workers rights and union representation, dismantle the public safety net, tear down public schools and higher education, give back the robber barons all the control they once had over vast swaths of the economy, and dream up new ways of demonizing undocumented immigrants and gay people, all because they hate “That Man in the White House.” (It’s not the first time they’ve used that term. They did the same to FDR; the phrase came about because certain Republicans couldn’t even say the name “Roosevelt.” To them, he was their Voldemort: “He Who Must Not Be Named.”)

The racially-tinged elements of it are, at this point, almost beside the point. Even if the whole birth certificate thing had never come up, there is still the mindset in the Republican party, now calcified into party platform bedrock, that any president who is not a Republican is not a legitimate leader of the country. His election is tainted, his motives are evil, he has somehow usurped the powers vested in him by the Constitution, and therefore there is no reason whatsoever to work with him.

By all accounts, we are eight days away from a real fiscal crisis that could damage the lives of just about every person in this country and have a tsunami impact on the global economy as well. (Of course, there are hard right-wing deniers, and even those who say it would be a good thing; it would teach us a lesson.) The fact that we are even to this point of crisis tells you that they’re doing it purely out of spite.

I still remain optimistic that an agreement, albeit an ugly and deformed one, will come out of this and the debt ceiling will be raised and somehow a crisis will be averted. I say that not because I believe the Republicans will finally come to their senses and decide, to paraphrase Spock, that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the Tea Party. They’ll do it because somewhere, somehow, someone in the bowels of the Capitol or Grover Norquist’s mind, they’ll come up with a way to turn it to their political advantage and use it to try to defeat President Obama next year. That’s been their goal all along.