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Monday, November 22, 2010

Bad News in Pretty Packages

Wrapped giftThere are some columnists I like to read just because their prose is so damned good. Frank Rich comes to mind, then media critic Tom Shales, followed in no particular order by E.J. Dionne, Cynthia Tucker, and my own hometown guy John Nichols. This isn't a comprehensive list, just a few examples. Writing -- even opinion columns -- is art and these people get that. As for myself, I tend to think of my writing as more vocal than literary -- English as it's spoken, not as it's written -- so I don't really emulate these writers. I just read them and admire them. We spend so much time thinking and talking about their arguments that we often overlook their talents. That's a little bit of a shame, but not much of one. The arguments are the whole damned point. The prose is just the pretty package the arguments come in. But a lot of work goes into that packaging, so take moment to appreciate it the next time you tear it open to get to the point.

I bring all this up because sometimes those pretty packages contain some pretty ugly truths. So thank God for the pretty packaging -- it's the bright side to some pretty awful stuff. Paul Krugman is another writer I like and his approach to truth can be pretty stark and brutal.

Former Senator Alan Simpson is a Very Serious Person. He must be -- after all, President Obama appointed him as co-chairman of a special commission on deficit reduction.

So here's what the very serious Mr. Simpson said on Friday: "I can't wait for the blood bath in April. ... When debt limit time comes, they're going to look around and say, 'What in the hell do we do now? We've got guys who will not approve the debt limit extension unless we give 'em a piece of meat, real meat,'" meaning spending cuts. "And boy, the blood bath will be extraordinary," he continued.

Think of Mr. Simpson's blood lust as one more piece of evidence that our nation is in much worse shape, much closer to a political breakdown, than most people realize.

Here's the problem: failing to raise our debt limit is exactly the same thing as declaring bankruptcy -- for no good reason. The nation's debt is large, but not unmanageably so. People are still buying the bonds, despite the fact that the interest rates are ridiculously low. This means world confidence in America is strong. Despite Republican hysteria, we are most definitely not in a Greek-style debt crisis. If we were, no one would buy our bonds. A debt crisis isn't a subtle thing, you don't wonder if you're in one, it's more like an anvil dropped on your head. It's pretty immediate and it gets your attention.

But this is an example of how Republican messaging is completely irresponsible -- scratch that; negligently irresponsible. They create counter-arguments out of thin air, just to be contrary. And the only reason they want to be contrary is that they want to win. Republicans are in permanent campaign mode, care nothing about governance, and strictly about winning elections, because that's what demagoguery is all about. And so they make crazy arguments that sometimes get away from them.

Look at their position on taxation -- it's positively stupid. They've convinced themselves that Reagan proved that tax cuts spur economic growth, despite the fact that Reagan had to raise taxes because it turned out he was completely wrong about this whole "tax cuts spur economic growth" thing. Revisionist history says otherwise, because doing anything else would mean admitting that Democrats are right. Being Republican means never having to learn the lessons of history, because you can always just rewrite it. But, in reality, if wishes were horses, Republicans would be riding a sane economic policy.

Republicans have told this lie so often and for so long that they've managed to believe it. And none of them believe it more than this new batch of morons they've managed to drop into office. The debt, the debt, ohmyGodthedebt!

And the debt is not the problem. At least, not the immediate one. The economy is the problem. Unconstructively contrary as always, Republicans would have everyone believe that the debt is responsible for the state of the economy, when almost the opposite is true -- the economy is (partly - read "Bush") responsible for the state of the debt. If someone out there could explain how this "debt's dragging down the economy" argument is supposed to work, I'd appreciate the input. Because it's not as obvious as you seem to think. Mostly because it makes no goddam sense at all.

Amazingly, there's no shortage of Republicans who want America to declare bankruptcy by failing to raise the debt limit. They want to create a worldwide monetary crisis, because they're idiots who've talked themselves into believing a bunch of crap that not only isn't true, but that makes no logical sense. Look, I wish we didn't have to pay taxes and I wish that the surest way to boost a bad economy was to sit on your hands and do nothing. But I also wish that public drinking fountains dispensed Anchor Steam Beer and that every time I farted I'd win a million dollars. These are all at about the same point on a scale of possibility and realism. Just because you want something to be true, it doesn't mean you can force it to be true. Reality doesn't work that way.

Unless Republicans are willing to drop their cultic idiocy and accept reality, we are in for bad, bad times. And there's not much chance of them dropping the cultic idiocy. Thank God the news came in such a pretty package.


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