OK, now I’m mad

I participated in the 2008 campaign because I believed this country had a real chance to pass universal health coverage and achieve other worthy goals. I was positively inspired by Candidate Obama’s intelligence and grace at the top of American politics. I still admire President Obama. But I’m finding a more negative source of motivation these days.

As we lurch towards possible default, the debt ceiling fight is no longer merely about taxes and spending. It’s no longer just a battle about the size of government, social insurance, and mutual obligation, either.

This has become a conflict with a nihilist minority among Republicans. This minority exudes contempt for the craft of public policy. It eagerly seeks whatever violation of our nation’s implicit legislative norms would provide some momentary advantage. This minority now holds hostage the full faith and credit of the United States—a maneuver whose one likely consequence would be to spike interest rates, raise the deficit, and damage the economy.

It’s important for President Obama to win reelection. It may be even more important to defeat the Tea Partiers. This movement’s ideas, bullying tactics and harmful policy agenda must be emphatically defeated and repudiated.

President Obama has sought to strike some reasonable bipartisan deals with Republicans. Sadly, the most extreme Tea Party partisans exert near-veto power over any such deals. The president’s conciliatory approach might even have made disastrous confrontation more likely. His openly-acknowledged concessions to hostage-takers seem to have emboldened them.

I liked the president’s fire today. I hope the Tea Partiers overreach proves to be their undoing. If not we’re all in trouble.

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect, tnr.com, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

23 thoughts on “OK, now I’m mad”

  1. Defeating the Tea Party will remain difficult as long as it enjoys the unconditional support of Fox News, which remains staffed with people who work for Rupert Murdoch. Fox, after all, has given its full support to Allen West in his hysterical attack on Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, and will certainly give full support to the Republican nihilists even if they crash the economy again. As long as the GOP has the full support of the lickspittle toadies who slavishly do the bidding of News Corp, and as long as News Corp maintains the largest TV news audience in the country, it will have a mechanism with which to blame everything on the Democrats, and have that message carry national elections.

  2. Fox News may well have the largest cable TV audience, but its numbers are small compared to the networks. We tend to think of Fox News as influential because the Village media and bloggers across the political spectrum pay so much attention to it. But that’s way out of proportion to its influence on the national electorate.

  3. I don’t see anyone being “reasonable” here. The Republicans are crazy. The “crisis” itself is crazy.

    I don’t see Obama’s economic policies as being “reasonable”, to begin with, and they certainly don’t improve, in compromise with the Republicans.

    Clearly, I’m powerless, in the sense that the government is completely unresponsive to my economic needs, as an ordinary, barely middle-class person, and both Parties work to make it so.

    If Romney is in there, they will cut Social Security and keep the wars going and the highways crumbling and global warming on track, just as Obama has, but Republicans in Congress won’t be pretending to “extort” policy choices Obama pretends to oppose. But, maybe, maybe, Democrats will figure out that out-Republicaning the Republicans is not a winning electoral strategy. Maybe.

    Re-electing Obama just seems like wishing for the same. What about this do you want to continue?

  4. You should be mad at Obama for not manufacturing his own phony crisis first. Reacting to Republicans is a loser’s game.

  5. Obama made this crisis? Bruce, look at the simple history. It is neither phony nor his. Just look.

  6. Bruce is perhaps reflecting the current Republican meme that by passing only an interim a debt limit increase in the lame-horse post-midterm Congressional session Obama created the current crisis; it’s all his fault.

  7. Obama and the Democrats made this crisis by refusing to pass a massive debt limit increase (say, $500 trillion) during the lame duck House session. It was completely foreseeable that the teabaggers would try to destroy the economy once they had a veto in the House and yet the Democrats refused to act.

    Even if the current crisis is defused, the medium term political prospects for the United States are grim as one party is gripped with nihilism and the other is gripped with paralysis. This can will be kicked down the road for at least a few more years, but it cannot be kicked down the road forever before something gives.

  8. The only thing I take as a given in the outcome of this crisis is that there’s going to be a civil war between the Republican party organization and the Tea Partiers. There is absolutely no outcome that will not upset them. There is no deal that is satisfactory to them, and they aren’t going to like the results of having no deal. Boehner and Cantor are trying different strategies to try to harness and corral them, but they’re both going to be humiliated in the end (Boehner is most of the way there already) since the fastest way to violate the faith of the Tea Party is to lead it.

    2012 is going to be an absolutely bizarre election season.

  9. Where “nihilist minority among Republicans” is shorthand for Republicans who REALLY DO disagree with you about “taxes and spending: and the size of government, social insurance, and mutual obligation”. Instead of basically agreeing with you, with slight differences at the margins.

  10. Brett, what makes them “nihilist” is their willingness to gamble the full faith and credit of the United

  11. Were it a GOP president and a GOP Senate locked in battle with a Democratic House holding the debt ceiling hostage led by a radical ‘no compromise’ cohort demanding 99% marginal tax rates on the rentier class and socialized health care, I’m sure Brett would characterize them similarly.

  12. Political football, what makes the Democrats nihilists is their willingness to gamble exactly the same in the cause of opposing any spending cuts. Game of chicken, no crash without two players. So far we’ve got legislation coming out of the House, and bupkis out of the Democratic controlled Senate, and nothing but veto threats from the President, and you figure it’s the Republicans who are causing the crisis?

  13. Brett, the Democrats would raise the debt ceiling as a stand-alone bill; the Republicans will not. Therefore, there is no comparison between the two; the Democrats are not gambling. They are merely trying to reduce the ransom that the nation must pay to the hostage-takers. If they had any courage, they wouldn’t have agreed to negotiate over ransom at all, because, if you do that, the hostage-takers will try it again next time.

  14. This was all predictable by anyone with an ounce of political awareness. Trying to reason with lunatics is a loser’s game that Obama thought his sweet reason and “bipartisanship” would nevertheless allow him to win. Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein may be “savvy businessmen.” The President is the un-savviest of politicians. Alas.

  15. Let me add this, from Paul Krugman’s blog:

    It turns out that in the final stages of the debt negotiations, Republicans suddenly added a new demand — a trigger that would end up eliminating the individual mandate in health care reform.

    This is telling, in a couple of ways.

    First, the health care mandate has nothing to do with debt and deficits. So this is naked blackmail: the GOP is trying to use the threat of financial catastrophe to impose its policy vision, even in areas that have nothing to do with the issue at hand, a vision that it lacks the votes to enact through normal legislation. …

  16. Finally Brett gets serious. Not.

    By your analysis, the only way the Ds would not be nihilists would be to roll over or magically make the Rs disappear. Doesn’t work that way in grown-up land.

    The Rs ratcheted up the stakes by clamping a boot on a routine vote. They’re not opposed to raising the ceiling, mind you. Nobody (who’s serious) is. They simply want what they want and are more than willing to degrade civil norms to get it. I think this falls well within the bounds of nihilism. Trying to wrestle with a nihilist doesn’t necessarily make you a nihilist (but you will need a good shower afterwards).

    Now of course you’re going to claim that it was actually the Ds who started it by recklessly ramping up the debt; and I could counter with the arguments that have been made here repeatedly. And on it goes. But, forget it. Life is too short as it is.

  17. Ooooh, did Obama have a spat with his Republican sweethearts? I guess he’ll have to bring them even more presents to patch things up. He certainly cares far, far more about their feelings than those of the people who supported him.

  18. “So far we’ve got legislation coming out of the House, and bupkis out of the Democratic controlled Senate…” Hey, that was my line from January ’09 until January of ’11. Where were you, BB? Your partisanslip is showing.

  19. People need to stop calling the Republicans nihilists. The nihilist believes that nothing is really valuable and/or nothing is genuinely morally right. The relevant group in the GOP is not nihilistic. Their values are, so far as I can tell, confused and corrupt, but they are not non-existent. They believe that wealth is good and great concentrations of wealth are best, they are perhaps even committed to a type of plutocracy…it’s hard for me to discern the details. Most of them seem to be conservative Christians, too, with the usual repressive moral commitments in that direction. But also in there are some genuine, reasonable ideas, no matter how twisted, and these ideas appeal to reasonable people who simply don’t know much about what’s going on. I think, for example, that a genuine appreciation of the importance of self-reliance motivates much opposition to the welfare state and expansions thereof–it certainly appeals to me, and fuels my own ambivalence. At any rate, our current problems are caused not by people who value nothing, but, rather, by people who value the wrong things.

  20. Winston, that’s not quite right. Acting to tank the economy means that you don’t so much believe that wealth is good as that being richer than other people is good. The GOP world appears to be one where their donors are richer than everyone else, but poorer than they might have been in a better-run polity.

  21. I must admit that I was taken in by Obama’s rhetoric and “hope and change” strategy also.I really thought that we had a new kind of politician that could combine intelligence with bipartisan common sense. Unfortunately,I was wrong. His community organizer background, his voting “present” more times than taking a stand and his total lack of leadership on the debt crisis, really confirms that he does not have the political skills and intelligence to effectively govern this country. I have empathy for the issues he inherited but he and his economic team have implemented one failed economic plan after another. Every projection on employment and GDP levels has been missed and their juvenile response is either “that was unexpected” or “its just a bump in the road”. Well let me put the “unexpected bump in the road” comments in perspective. There are 14 million hard working Americans who have become the real casualties of the failed policies of these economic ignoramusses.We have been fooled by Obama and the MSM who keep the myth alive about how intelligent he is.I not buying it anymore and either are the rest of common sense Americans. So much for the elite educated class, I want to see a leader with a proven track for job growth and P&L responsibility and could less about his academic pedigree. That person will get my vote in 2012.

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