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Debt Ceiling Fight Has Me Thinking of Gallipoli

I am a big movie fan. As part of the deal that brought cable to the town I grew up in (Ypsilanti represent!) and one of the very few perks of Dad’s time as City Attorney, we were one of the first homes in town to get cable. So I was exposed to a huge range of films as a early teen and later.

One of the ones that always got to me was a Mel Gibson flick called Gallipoli. It is the story of two Australian runners who enlist in WWI and are sent to that disastrous campaign. At the end of the movie the troops are in their trenches, and they are about to be ordered to charge a hill controlled by Ottoman machine guns.

Mel Gibson’s character is a orders runner. He has been given the order that will stop the attack that will certainly lead to the slaughter of the troops, which the other runner is part of. He fails to get there in time and the men go over the top, into the teeth of the machine gun fire.

The other runner has been saying the mantra that he recited before a race and when the whistles blow he goes over the top, and starts to run to the enemy lines, eventually dropping his gun and being shot down. It is a horrible and wonderful statement about war and futility and courage.

What the hell does all of this have to do with politics? I am so glad you asked, gentle reader! I have been feeling more and more like that runner in Gallipoli lately. Specifically in regards to the completely manufactured debt ceiling crisis and the “solutions” that are coming out of it.

There are a lot of folks to slather blame on. One of them who is not getting a lot of play is Chicago Mayor Rham Emanuel. He is the guy who made “a crisis is an opportunity that should not be wasted” a White House article of faith.

Of course that would not be too bad if it were not for the President’s willingness to use a dangerous game by the Republicans to try to achieve a so-called ‘grand bargain” on a wide range of contentious issues. The major failure on the President’s part in this was assuming, against evidence and the fact that there are 85 hard right Republican House Freshmen, that he would have rational actors to negotiate with.

Then there are the Republicans who, lets face it, are not based in reality anymore, see a giant opportunity to end the New Deal or at least wound it critically and set the stage for its destruction. They too see crisis as opportunity and being callus frauds are not above manufacturing a crisis.

All of this has lead to a focus on policies that will actually make things much worse in the short term. While default will be catastrophic, the plans being floated from grand bargain to short term increase of the debt ceiling will be very hard on the economy and especially those folks already struggling. There is no way that taking trillions of spending out of the economy will help our GDP.

The Reid plan (the most likely to pass at this point) pulls 2 trillion in spending form the economy. That is an average of 200 billion a year. Now there are folks that are saying, “It is not that much, really”. The fact of the matter is it is a lot and it will hurt a lot. Just remember what we were all talking about when the government shut down fight was on. The Republicans wanted 100 billion in cuts, and everyone from the President on down to this not so humble blogger was saying it was nuts and would be counterproductive in a slow economy.

Now we are talking about twice that amount, every year (on average) for the next decade. Can anyone tell me how it was going to be horrible to cut 100 billion but it will be just fine to cut twice that amount. Yes, I understand it is about where the cuts are going to come from, but when you are talking 2 trillion (2,000 billion) there is nowhere that won’t be affected by those cuts in terms of programs. In terms of the overall economy that is true as well.

To make the whole thing even more craptasitic, this is not even close to being the end of this kind of fight. As soon as we resolve this manufactured crisis with crappy solutions, there will be a new battle on the budget.

The Federal fiscal year ends in September. That means there will have to be a continuing resolution to keep the government open. Rest assured that the Republicans, after being well rewarded for their hostage taking, will do it again.

Meanwhile the infrastructure of the nation is crumbling, with something approaching 2 trillion in needed maintenance or replacement needed for everything from dams to roads to electrical grids to schools. Unemployment is at 9.2% for those still look for work and somewhere in the mid-teens when we add in those who have quit looking. It gets to an even bigger number when we talk about the underemployed.

We have problems in this nation. We have been spending more than we take in, but the problem is not in the spending that has kept the nation a float after willful negligence of the banking industry nearly threw us into an economic depression.

We could go a long way to fixing that imbalance by ending all the Bush era tax cuts (yes even the ones that benefit the middle class and lower class). It would be shared sacrifice and would bring in tons of money that could then be spent to increase demand and get the economy on a solid footing. All of that would create jobs and set off a virtuous cycle.

Sadly that is the rational view and it is nowhere to be seen or heard in the House or the White House or even the Senate. The ideas like the Peoples Budget do not even get marginal consideration.

It is these intractable facts and positions that remind me of Gallipoli. Then, like now, it was an ill-conceived idea, rushed into without sufficient planning or resources and the result was the destruction of many young lives on both sides of the fight.

So, what are we to do? There may be nothing left to do but recite our running mantra, wait for the whistle and then run like hell into the jaws of death. That is a fatalist point of view that while tempting when one is in a dark mood, I just can’t subscribe to.

The other choice is to take the Mel Gibson role and run like hell to avert a tragedy, knowing that it will probably be futile, that the results of failure are dire, and yet unwilling to quit while there is still a glimmer of hope.

The end of Gallipoli always makes me cry. Cry for the bravery of the men, cry for the futility of that bravery, cry for the frustration of the short sightedness of the leaders, and cry for those that tried and failed to avert disaster.

Here is hoping that we will not all be crying over the Gallipoli of our time, the great Debt Ceiling Debacle of 2011.

The floor is yours.

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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