Today we have a president so invested in proving he is no threat to the mainstream that he is going to inevitably allow the nation to succumb to a renewed recession -- or worse, simply because of his own need to belief that he can somehow transcend deep-seated differences.
Krugman, in the New York Times today:
The federal debt limit is a strange quirk of U.S. budget law: since debt is the consequence of decisions about taxing and spending, and Congress already makes those taxing and spending decisions, why require an additional vote on debt? And traditionally the debt limit has been treated as a minor detail. During the administration of former President George W. Bush — who added more than $4 trillion to the national debt — Congress, with little fanfare, voted to raise the debt ceiling no less than seven times.
So the use of the debt ceiling to extort political concessions is something new in American politics. And it seems to have come as a complete surprise to Mr. Obama.
Last December, after Mr. Obama agreed to extend the Bush tax cuts — a move that many people, myself included, viewed as in effect a concession to Republican blackmail — Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic asked why the deal hadn’t included a rise in the debt limit, so as to forestall another hostage situation (my words, not Mr. Ambinder’s).
The president’s response seemed clueless even then. He asserted that “nobody, Democrat or Republican, is willing to see the full faith and credit of the United States government collapse,” and that he was sure that John Boehner, as speaker of the House, would accept his “responsibilities to govern.”
Well, we’ve seen how that worked out.
Now, Mr. Obama was right about the dangers of failing to raise the debt limit. In fact, he understated the case, by focusing only on financial confidence.
Not that the confidence issue is trivial. Failure to raise the debt limit — which would, among other things, disrupt payments on existing debt — could convince investors that the United States is no longer a serious, responsible country, with nasty consequences. Furthermore, nobody knows what a U.S. default would do to the world financial system, which is built on the presumption that U.S. government debt is the ultimate safe asset.
But confidence isn’t the only thing at stake. Failure to raise the debt limit would also force the U.S. government to make drastic, immediate spending cuts, on a scale that would dwarf the austerity currently being imposed on Greece. And don’t believe the nonsense about the benefits of spending cuts that has taken over much of our public discourse: slashing spending at a time when the economy is deeply depressed would destroy hundreds of thousands and quite possibly millions of jobs.
So failure to reach a debt deal would have very bad consequences. But here’s the thing: Mr. Obama must be prepared to face those consequences if he wants his presidency to survive.
Bear in mind that G.O.P. leaders don’t actually care about the level of debt. Instead, they’re using the threat of a debt crisis to impose an ideological agenda. If you had any doubt about that, last week’s tantrum should have convinced you. Democrats engaged in debt negotiations argued that since we’re supposedly in dire fiscal straits, we should talk about limiting tax breaks for corporate jets and hedge-fund managers as well as slashing aid to the poor and unlucky. And Republicans, in response, walked out of the talks.
So what’s really going on is extortion pure and simple. As Mike Konczal of the Roosevelt Institute puts it, the G.O.P. has, in effect, come around with baseball bats and declared, “Nice economy you have here. A real shame if something happened to it.”
And the reason Republicans are doing this is because they must believe that it will work: Mr. Obama caved in over tax cuts, and they expect him to cave again. They believe that they have the upper hand, because the public will blame the president for the economic crisis they’re threatening to create. In fact, it’s hard to avoid the suspicion that G.O.P. leaders actually want the economy to perform badly.
This fits nicely into what Bernie Sanders was saying on the Randi Rhodes Show the other day -- that the moneyed interests that have taken over our government really do not care what is left behind after their pillage, because they are already looking ahead to China and India. The notion that if the U.S. defaults on its debt, Wall Street will suffer too has been held up as a talisman against the assured destruction being held over our heads by the Republicans. Believe me, the big investors have already taken care of this in regard to their own interests...and investors who have less than billions of dollars don't even figure into this equation. Your 401(k)? Of no importance to these people whatsoever. Families being tossed into the streets? Old people dying in the gutters? Trivial. Because when people are as evil as those who currently dominate the Republican Party and their billionaire masters, it's impossible to fight them until you at least recgnize them.
In his 1983 book People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil, the late M. Scott Peck referred to scapegoating as the primary manifesation of evil:
A predominant characteristic, however, of those I call evil is scapegoating. Because they consider themselves beyond reproach, they must lash out at anyone who does reproach them. They sacrifice others to serve their self-image of perfection.
It's easy to see why people like this take Ayn Rand as their political guru, for Randian Objectivism reinforces their sense of "specialness."
Peck goes on:
Since the evil, deep down, feel themselves to be faultless, it is inevitable that when they are in conflict with the world they will invariably perceive the conflict as the world's fault.
Evil, then, is most often committed in order to scapegoat...
Look at the the Koch Republican Party's scapegoats are: Women, especially women who want reproductive autonomy. Immigrants. Liberals. Black people. George Soros. Gays. The list goes on and on. This is the Peck model made real -- evil people scapegoating others so as to pass the "hot potato" of evil onto someone else.
What Peck didn't address in his analysis was greed. The book's primary example of evil is the Vietnam-era My Lai massacre, so he thinks of evil primarily in terms of war. He presumably would make the same connection of evil with the atrocities at Abu Ghraib. But the kind of evil that would deliberately destroy the economy of a once-great nation purely out of greed, because there's another emerging market just across the sea that is just waiting for exploitation is something of which even Peck never dreamed.
Nor, apparently, has Barack Obama.
Even in his speech the other day, the one that prompted the hacktacular Mark Halperin to call him a dick, Obama still remained hopeful that the Republicans would ultimately step back from the brink and compromise. When one is simply misguided, but not evil, it's impossible to fathom party leaders who would destroy an entire country at the behest of the people who finance their campaigns. But that is what Barack Obama is dealing with, and that is why if he doesn't recognize pretty damn soon that what he is dealing with is not simple political differences, but a particularly vile form of evil, then we are all completely fucked.
I think we know already how this will play out.