I'm from Chicago. I know. That's one of the reasons why I'm such a goddamned cynic, so I suppose it takes one to know one. But this marathon fiasco of the debt limitation fight in Washington, DC is a bit crazy making for the entire world. And let's be blunt here. President Barack Obama is largely responsible for this whole crazy making process.
Why? Here we have to go back to my academic training at the University of Oregon grad school in political science. One of the finest practitioners of the political arts I ever met was a professor by the name of Jim Klonoski. Klonoski was not only an academic, but he was the state chair of the Democratic Party. And you don't get into that position by being a beanbag player. And this is what he said about everything you'll ever need to know about the nature of the US presidency in two words -- style and direction.
When we talk about style, we are literally talking about personality type. In other words, what separates Barack Obama from Jimmy Carter or FDR? This is something that is almost impossible for any president to change. Think about yourself. How easy would it be for you to have a personality implant? So he is, what he is. And the whole world is stuck with him for as long as he's in the Oval Office.
Now direction. It's easier to change the direction of the presidency. But this too, is pretty much bred into the bone. Someone becomes POTUS with a certain set of things he wants to set out to do, and he tries to do them. Admittedly, if circumstances get radical enough in the world, that direction might change. War, for example, certainly is a direction changer. But one of the strengths and weaknesses of the federal system of government in this country is that it's almost impossible to derail the direction of a set of governmental policies once it's on track.
And here, is where I have a USDA, grade A beef with #44. I watched a snippet of NBC News last night after the speech, and if this is all you follow, I can guarantee you -- you're confused. You're probably saying to yourself, "Gee, I guess reducing the government deficit must be a good thing. There are all of those trillions of dollars they're talking about. I have to live with a balanced budget in my family." Well guess what? If you say that, you're absolutely WRONG!
Government debt is as American as apple pie. It's been with us since before this country was founded. And in a depression (like what we're in right now) it's absolutely essential. Any economist of any persuasion will tell you that the cure for our current economic disease is more government spending.Why? Because we have hard, factual, empirical evidence of that based on the policies followed by Herbert Hoover. And any of the hot air coming from the Repugnican or Tea Party is simply hot air.
So yes, the Repugs are far more to blame for this mess we're in right now than anybody. But here's the catch. The President of the United States is responsible for managing this entire debt limitation fight, and I believe that he's done a horribly bad job of it for several reasons.
1. If you look under the hood at White House and Republican proposals for "a grand bargain," you'll see some pretty ugly stuff coming from Obama. Don't let anyone fool you. Obama has seriously put forward on the table actual CUTS to Social Security and Medicare. This from a president who's supposedly from the Democratic Party that has as its aorta, the preservation of these social programs. Mess with Social Security and Medicare, and destroy the Democratic Party. And from where I see it, I see little if NO cuts to the bloated, out of control Defense Department.
2. The White House has certainly, actively encouraged the fubar of Congressional process that we've witnessed in the last months. Both houses of Congress and both parties have been encouraged to come up with as many alternatives as they can possibly think of. There is one certainty about Congress. Make a crisis. Put a gun to their head. Give them one simple option with a "yes" or "no vote, and they can do something about it. That's how the TARP bailout happened in the fall of 2008. That's how we declared war after Pearl Harbor. When you start getting lots of bells and whistles with legislation, it all goes to committee. And committee is the death of fast action in Congress. This is what has happened with the Boehner, Reid, McConnell, Gang of Six, etc. proposals. And in committee we have little tin gods that cannot be moved. Barack Obama's extended discussions have encouraged this.
3. With guaranteed immobility on the part of Congress, there's only one option for the President. And that is to invoke Article 14, Section 4 of the Constitution. I hear the President was once a constitutional scholar, so perhaps he's read that document. God knows, the Constitutional option has been bandied about by Timothy Geithner and Bill Clinton. And if there was a near great president like Harry Truman in office now, I can guarantee you , he'd just say to hell with it and invoke his Constitutional powers a long time ago.
So why hasn't Obama done so? Here we see the dark side of his character, his style. Hillary Clinton has been making a tour of Asia, and one of the hot topics of discussion in Tokyo and Hong Kong has been the debt limitation crisis. A cynic might say that La Clinton has been dispatched in an attempt to roil the Asian markets in order to put additional pressure on the GOPs. But far be it from me to suggest such a tawdry thing.
Given all of this, I almost have to say that what I'm seeing in Obama right now is a sadistic streak. The Republicans are in a jam with their position, and they can't change. Obama knows this, and he can invoke the constitutional option any time he wants. So to me, it all seems to be just an extended exercise in inflicting pain on the poor stupidos of the GOP. Why do it?
And that brings us to the speech of last night, which I called the President's Rodney King speech. "Can't we all just get along?" Write your Congressman was his message. Right, that'll work.
The resounding cry is, "Hell, no!" Which is why all of this fooferaw appears to me to be an extended exercise in beating dead horses, donkeys, and elephants.
Style and direction, my ass.