Insane Asylum

Insane Asylum by simonk

Steve Benen at Political Animal managed to reach back a couple of years to find just the right quote form John Cole about dealing with the Republicans in Congress:

I really don’t understand how bipartisanship is ever going to work when one of the parties is insane. Imagine trying to negotiate an agreement on dinner plans with your date, and you suggest Italian and she states her preference would be a meal of tire rims and anthrax. If you can figure out a way to split the difference there and find a meal you will both enjoy, you can probably figure out how bipartisanship is going to work the next few years.

I know that I have a spent a lot of time hammering Republicans for being dumbasses and nitwits over the last couple of years, but this whole fight with the debt ceiling really is showing what happens when conspicuously uncurious people who only listen to their own ideological outlets get into power.

The Conventional Wisdom (including mine) keeps saying that we will get some kind of deal to avoid a real potential disaster. And things certainly look that way. After all the rumors are that Majority Leader Reid is going to unveil a plan that cuts 2.5 trillion (2,500 billion) from the budget over 10 years in ways that Democrats can get behind. A major feature of this plan is that we’d say 1.5 trillion by ending our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It would have no increased revenue and it would have no cuts to entitlements.

All of this is to the good (if you can call anything about Republican made mess good) in that the Democrats have offered the Republicans everything they insisted on, cuts that equal the increase the debt ceiling and no new revenue. In any sane world that would be that, a total acquiescence’s to the hostage conditions and an end the crisis.

The problem is that it is unclear that Republicans can take a solution that does not only meet their stated goals but lets them stick it to the people they have decided that they don’t like. It is no mystery that the GOP really does not like the “average” people of the nation. They have been showing their disdain for the millions of unemployed people for a very long time, call them lazy and wanting to subject them to random drug screenings merely for being victims of the economy they helped to engineer.

The same is true for those who rely on the social safety net programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. After all this has obviously never been about reducing our debt or deficit and has always been, as Newt Gingrich put it, about rightwing social engineering.

Given a plan that does not slash entitlement spending and that does rely on a peace dividend, will the Republicans be willing to accept that they won? Are they truly unable to accept yes in a negotiation if it leave their interlocutors with anything they can support?

This is where the CW starts to fail for me. I understand that their funders have been yelling at the Republicans that they must increase the debt ceiling. I get that even if the Republicans are truly nuts that the Democrats are not and understand just how dangerous this has all become and that will make them more likely to bend in ways they never would to avoid the greater of two evils, namely the nation defaulting.

All this would be something I could understand and explain without problem, if it were not for the fact of the Republicans seemingly pathological inability to face reality. There are Republicans who even know, when the entire economic community is saying that there will be dire consequences, who are saying “It won’t be that bad” if we default. Or that somehow paying the interest on bonds while failing to send out some of the 70 million monthly checks that go out from the government would not be a default at all.

They are in a word, crazy. Here is the thing, when someone is detached from reality it is a real problem to get them to act rationally. They might order Italian, or they might ask for a big plate of tire rims and anthrax, and there is no way to know how they will jump at any given moment.

As an optimist, I am hopeful that the Republicans will not be so nihilistic as to take the nation over a economic cliff that will make 2008 look like a mild slow down in spending. But I am also a data guy and the data is not looking promising. The premise that they won’t let us default is based on a long history of rational actions by politicians, no matter what their more colorful and eccentric members might say and do.

It is hard to be comfortable with that premise when we see well known conservative writers like David Brooks saying that he did not know this Republican Party and worrying that they would not do the right thing for the nation when push came to shove.

Then you have other writers like Nicholas Kristof sounding the warning about the debt ceiling not just in economic terms but in national security ones as well. He puts it this way in his column in the New York Times:

If China or Iran threatened our national credit rating and tried to drive up our interest rates, or if they sought to damage our education system, we would erupt in outrage.
Well, wake up to the national security threat. Only it’s not coming from abroad, but from our own domestic extremists.

We tend to think of national security narrowly as the risk of a military or terrorist attack. But national security is about protecting our people and our national strength — and the blunt truth is that the biggest threat to America’s national security this summer doesn’t come from China, Iran or any other foreign power. It comes from budget machinations, and budget maniacs, at home.

House Republicans start from a legitimate concern about rising long-term debt. Politicians are usually focused only on short-term issues, so it would be commendable to see the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party seriously focused on containing long-term debt. But on this issue, many House Republicans aren’t serious, they’re just obsessive in a destructive way.

It gets harder each day to square the conventional wisdom that this is a tempest in a teacup and will be resolved without lasting harm (really that ship has sailed days if not weeks ago) with the constant and continuing observations of the Republicans inability to understand what kind of hostage they have taken and how serious the situation really is.

In some ways this hostage situation is worse than one where a single murderous fuck-wit has a gun to the head of some school teacher and wants a bag of money and a jet to a non-extradition nation. In those kinds of situations we have the option of trying to kill the hostage taker if there is no other option. With this situation there are 305 million primary hostages with most of 7 billion more secondary hostages being held by Congressional fuck-wits (they are only murderous at a second remove, don’t you know?) There is no SWAT team to try to make a head shot on these hostage takers.

All of which leaves us to wait and see if there are any rational actors in the House Republican caucus any more. It is hard to see that there are. And frankly the time has run out. Because of the non-rational actors in the Senate, it will take the full clock to get the bill passed and that means they need to be working on the details now. The problem with debt is it is not like a government shut down. We could have a debt deal and still not have enough money to pay the bills because we could not borrow it in time. This is not like a government shut down.

Still one hopes that Treasury Geithner has a plan that will spend incoming revenues on getting more money in the system right away, but it is not just Republicans who can fail to be rational actors.

Until we know, there is something we can all do, especially if you have a Republican Representative. Call them! I know it seems fruitless but it really might make that little bit of difference. Call them everyday, hell call twice a day until we get this thing fixed. Tell them that they must bend or they are endangering the United States, financially and strategically. If enough calls come in, at the very least they will know who will be blamed for their failure if there is such a failure. As irrational as Republicans seem, they do want to be viewed as the heroes in this thing. If they know that will not happen, maybe, just maybe getting everything they said they wanted would be enough for them.

Here is where you can find your Representatives number. So be rational and do something to try to resolve this hostage situation. It is a small thing but at this point it is probably all we have left other than lots and lots of Tums.

The floor is yours.

Update: Fellow FDL writer Jon Walker makes a slightly different point on this. Given that the Dems are constantly backing down from their original positions, would it be rational for Boehner and the House Republicans to take any deal as the best they can get? You can read the whole thing here.

Bill Egnor

Bill Egnor

I am a life long Democrat from a political family. Work wise I am a Six Sigma Black Belt (process improvement project manager) and Freelance reporter for Govtrak.org

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