Monday, August 1, 2011

Monday Musings: Debt Ceiling Catastrophe

I can barely bring myself to write about the debt ceiling "deal." What a catastrophe. Barring a sudden miraculous rising by liberals, "buyer's remorse" from spineless (and increasingly rare) moderate Congressmen and women, and/or enough disgust from moderate Democrats and Republicans to give life to centrist movements such as No Labels, we've handed the future of the country to a group of fanatics with an idealized fantasy about a country that never really existed, not to mention some very creative interpretations of history and the Constitution. Will this be the moment future historians pick as the time when America definitively jumped the shark?

Our infrastructure (physical and human) is coming apart at the seams. Entitlements need major and thoughtful reform (which is totally understood from very thoughtful work by a number of people across the political spectrum but politically untenable in this toxic environment). We're competing with countries with completely different approaches (I'm not saying the "right" approach - just different and to date successful), investing billions and billions to educate their citizens, build 21st century infrastructure and develop the green economy future that's required and inevitable (no matter what the climate change deniers think). At this very moment when a smart and pragmatic government, working hand-in-hand with the private sector, can help drive us successfully into the new world, we're attempting to turn the clock back to the 1950s because of unsubstantiated dogma.

Don't get me wrong: federal spending is unsustainable at current levels and without increased revenues. We need a whole national discussion about this, not to mention resolution of the big issues at the heart of the situation: What is the proper role of government? What should the federal vs. state governments do? Can these institutions work effectively in their current configurations in a highly complex, globalized world? What, if anything, should government do to help the private sector succeed? Which regulations work and which should be eliminated or changed? Should government try to make calls about what sectors to support (and how) vs. just letting the market sort it out? What can government do to help those who aren't succeeding in this current economy?

In our current system, however, we're never going to solve any of these issues. Hell, we can't even discuss them. It's impossible to have a logical discussion with extremists barking dogma on every issue (and while these folks exist on both sides of the political spectrum, the conservative/Tea Party side is louder, more untethered from reality and ultimately more to blame for the current sickening environment). Just look at taxes: we can't even consider the possibility not of raising taxes but of simply returning to previous levels of taxation following the disastrous Bush tax cuts (which added $1.8 trillion to our deficit while providing no sustained economic benefit). Hasn't the failure of 30 years of trickle-down economics taught anyone anything?

There are thoughtful people out there who know what we need to do to move forward. (Take a look, for example, at former Republican Representative Mickey Edwards' prescription for our political deadlock and hyper-bipartisanship.) I'd hoped Obama would be one. He has completely lost the battle to the extreme right-wing. Now I can only hope that those thoughtful people in the center can start to move ahead and come up with the pragmatic and sensible solutions to our many issues.

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