Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Default Debacle Demeans Democracy

Maybe it won't be so bad.

Who knows?

As our illustrious legislators fritter away their 11th hour in Washington, it's anybody's guess whether any agreement can be reached to avert America's defaulting on its debt.  Agreements are as elusive as non-sarcastic one-liners from Ted Cruz, or plans from Harry Reid to reduce spending.

Shucks - we can't even get everybody to agree that going past October 17 without raising the nation's debt ceiling can be considered a "default."  Some pundits have begun parsing the technical definition of "default," and painting worst-case scenarios as far less dire than previously assumed.  Hey, maybe we could sell the gold stored at Fort Knox to pay our bills.  Others insist that our Treasury will still be bringing in enough money through normal taxes and fees to pay its current bills, and we'll have enough money to pay the interest on what we've already borrowed.  We simply won't be able to borrow anything more until some wiggle room is somehow created between what's been budgeted and what we want.

To more and more conservatives, this whole debate is being touted as a workable way of trying to live within our means.  To liberals, however, it gives the impression that government programs are being held hostage by a minority faction of legislators.  To other nations around the planet, it's all too perilous a face-off, and they worry about how their own economies will react in that worst-case scenario.  Organizations as diverse as credit rating agencies and the Chinese government have felt compelled to officially convey their unease with the situation.

But whom can we believe?

Of course, what you believe - or want to believe - about whatever's going to happen on October 17 is significantly shaped by the type of media outlets you use for your news.  Conservative outlets partial to Tea Partiers have been generally casual about the whole thing, if not a bit amused at how frantic even establishment Republicans have become, the closer to October 17 we get.  Mainstream outlets partial to Democrats have become cheerleaders for President Obama, unwilling to consider anything other than an economic free-fall if an agreement isn't reached in time.  The Wall Street Journal, which of late has become an unabashedly anti-Obama machine, seems to at least be feigning an air of objectivity, while over at Huffington Post, its editors are making a mockery of hyperbole in their effusive disdain for anything that starts with "R."

It makes you wonder:  are these politicos and pundits from both sides of the aisle truly as illogical, self-aggrandizing, and bereft of moral compulsion as they appear and sound?  The fact that it's difficult to find any distinctly non-partisan, bare-bones, no-hidden-agenda analysis of this debate speaks volumes about how, despite all of the different forms of media we have in this country, we're genuinely starved for honest information.  We've hardly any legitimate news organizations providing equal, unbiased attention to the experts on both sides of this default question, which indicates how our peddlers of information control our access to that information based upon their own objectives.  Instead of "let the viewer decide," it's "let the viewer beware."  Indeed, the more you think you know what's really going on in Washington, the less you probably do.

Maybe defaulting on our debt - or whatever not raising the debt ceiling means - won't be The-End-of-Civilization-As-We-Know-It, like the liberal media has been prognosticating.  It's not like Washington hasn't willingly walked off of cliffs before and relied on political chicanery to somehow perpetuate the illusion of functionality.

Look at Obamacare, for example, which even the liberal media has determined to have been woefully planned and atrociously executed.  Not even liberal politicians want it for their own families and themselves.  A spectacular failure for Democrats, it likely would have collapsed on its own, and had Republicans been smart about it, they'd have let it.

But no!  Instead, in his supremely cocky, impatient style, Cruz had to exploit Obamacare for his own partisan kingdom-building.  He made eviscerating the Democrats' increasingly dubious healthcare scheme the cornerstone of his belligerent stonewalling during debates over funding the government and avoiding Washington's third financial showdown in two years, burning through time and political capital to bolster his personal popularity amongst a small segment of the electorate.

Some people walk off of cliffs because they're there.  Others get a bulldozer and make their own cliffs.

Meanwhile, if we do stumble on into October 18 without a deal, perhaps that will be the only way for us to know if this debate has been as critical as many of us have been led to believe.  Maybe calling everyone's bluff and riding it out past the deadline will emphatically endorse either the conservative argument, as no economic collapse occurs anywhere, or the liberal argument, if all you-know-what breaks loose.

What we should all agree upon, however, is that none of this is any way to run a country.  Plenty of pundits have already pointed this out, complaining that our standing in the international community risks being severely compromised no matter how this turns out.  How can we preach fiscal responsibility to other nations when we demonstrate such hubris and risk ourselves?  How can we preach fiscal responsibility to people in our own country who are on welfare, when even Republicans flaunt the rules for sound money management?

It's one thing for a husband and wife to argue over family finances, because they can rarely refuse to negotiate between themselves and risk their credit worthiness without facing severe consequences.  A nation's budget, on the other hand, at least in a democratic republic, is as political as anything can be.  Yet when you have politicians who refuse to compromise - even though compromise is the only way to get free-thinking people to set policy - it makes you wonder what politicians thought they were getting into when they ran for office.  And that applies not only to the Ted Cruz's of Washington, but the Nancy Pelosi's as well.

The thing about democracy is that there is usually more than one path, method, idea, or strategy to accomplish something.  The process of working for consensus between these various options can't be trivialized the way some Washington operatives like to assume.  To the extent that politicians have been kicking budgetary cans down Pennsylvania Avenue for generations now, it's good that people in Washington are beginning to realize that some bucks need to stop with them.  Trouble is, there is a complex plethora of ramifications for practically anything Washington does these days, and without addressing those ramifications, even the best-laid plans for fiscal solvency can go awry.  It's not a job for people who rely more on their charisma and sound bites than wisdom and tenacity.

Trouble is - what appeals more to voters of any political party?

If we sail past midnight two days from now, and the world still turns Friday morning, we might have learned a few things about economic resiliency.  But how much might our nation's ability to weather a dearth of compromise on our budget be more the grace of God in action than any proof of risk's virtue?

After all, the very fact we're facing this deadline has more to say about how incompetent our politicians are than anything else.  You might not believe in the God of the Bible, but frankly, if you put any faith in these folks up on Capitol Hill, you've no right to say religion is for the weak-minded.

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