I've been glued to CSPAN since Monday morning, after the announcement that the House would wait until Tuesday to vote on a Senate deal, the biggest news wasn't from Congress, but this interview with Wolf Blitzer on CNN. Both of these man on opposite sides of the political spectrum were in rare agreement, that this was a great deal for conservative Republicans.
Norquist was unequivocal about giving absolution to those who would break their no tax pledge for high wage earners. "This will make the Bush tax cuts permanent for the vast majority of taxpayers, and we can get more later" Reich agreed this was a great deal for Norquist's followers, so good that he was incredulous that Obama would give up the advantage of the election and of letting the consequences of the Cliff take effect, when any lowering of taxes could be provisional.
Norquist described how Republican House members would hold the country hostage by the threat of not approving the increase of the debt ceiling which would make this compromise, any increase in revenues or insufficient cuts in entitlements subject to this leverage. Once again Reich agreed with his analysis, and shook his head in wonderment why the Democrats would accept this deal.
Fiscal Cliff: Optimistic Apathy Destroyed
I "broke" the story here of Harry Reid announcing that the time limit had expired for negotiations to resolve the "fiscal cliff" yesterday morning. In it I compared what we are experiencing with my own lack of concern over the Cuban Missile Crisis as it was being played out when I was a young man. I may have overstated the reality of the commonality of the consequences, but not as much as others are minimizing it.
I use the word "Optimistic Apathy" as what has allowed this to occur, as the overwhelming majority of living Americans have no memory of the worst social disorder of our century, the Depression. And none have first hand knowledge of the horror of a breakdown in society that has happened when governments fail. Rather, probably partly as a function of news and entertainment being merged in the media, the historic consequences of failure of government, something so disturbing that it may lose market share, is subtly transformed in to the shape of a sports event, a very serious one with all the passion of soccer teams in Europe, where the team identity becomes consuming. Let's play hardball, is more than a tag line of a popular program, it is the way the events that shape the outcome of nations are reduced to cheering on your team, as if this will resolve the failures that have brought down nations, and even civilization.
The comments to yesterday's diary, as often is the case, are enlightening. Many people see my concern about the Cliff as either misguided because the fix is in between the two parties, or that it would be good for Democrats, including sequestration, and thus a victory for our team. I have circulated an essay privately on my own website that argues that the real danger is not the Cliff at all, but rather acceding to the restrictions of a legally suspect need for a law to pay the nations obligations. I didn't post it here because I broke the team rule, and focused on Obama's right and obligation to ignore this law, in Fiscal Warfare, What Would Lincoln Do
A corollary of Carl von Clausewitz's famous statement "War is a mere continuation of politics by other means," is that the danger of war, or of social disintegration that leads to, or is worse than, war-when still in the political arena may not give the appearance of what is at stake in the machinations of parliamentary partisanship.
The Wikipedia article on the Smoot–Hawley Tariff Act illustrates this perfectly If you go to the section on sponsors and legislative history, you will be right where we are now on the legislation to revise the effects of the budget. There were those who felt this would be a major problem, and they said so, but none were quite as pessimistic as I am right now about what is playing out this day, and the next few months on abrogating our financial obligations due to a debt limit. If you continue reading, to the section on Retaliation, there is this, "Germany developed a system of autarky." This word means self sufficiency in natural resources, which could only be achieved in one way.
Those whose optimistic apathy leads to a belief that this is all a game have to deal with boenhner's plan B fiasco. The members from non swing districts are not responsive to the party, to the leader or the interests of the country, but to the distorted values of their district. Those who are seeking a compromise for the greater good are not dealing with the representative but those who elected him. And if you need an illustration, even democrats run on such absurd tea party slogans, and even win in high education districts as I describe here.
Worse than the Cliff is the Ceiling, as I describe in detail in my linked article. Originally, Obama had said that he would insist than any agreement to avoid the cliff would also remove the threat of the debt limit, which would require immediate cuts about twice as severe as sequestration. This is our Smoot Harwley bill, with different consequences that could just destabilize the house of cards of fiat money and international trust that the modern world rests on.
So, while I have every hope that this somehow resolves itself, I refuse to indulge in Optimistic Apathy in the face of evidence that it is not warranted. Political parties and soccer teams come and go. This is, of course, a web site for Democrats, but what we face today, next week and next month is more serious than rooting for our team. As we pass the fiscal cliff, even if some mitigation of damage is done in the next few hours, we will be up against a debt limit, the imposition of which should never have been allowed to be a negotiating tactic. Too much is at stake.