Sunday, July 24, 2011
Frankenstein's Pledge Puppets
Former Virginia governor (and current U.S. senator) Mark Warner describes a failure to halt a debt default as "the single most irresponsible act, almost unprecedented, in American politics." New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has stated that "The biggest threat to the United States this summer probably doesn't come from Iran or Libya but from the home-grown risk that the nation will default on its debts."
Once again Speaker Boehner has walked away from a deal with the president because of the fact that 95 percent of Republicans have previously signed a pledge put forth by the Republican strategist, Grover Norquist, to oppose any legislation that involves tax increases, including the elimination of tax loopholes. Despite Obama's having offered Republicans a deal that gives away the store from the Democrats' point of view, at the last minute Boehner defected yet again and walked away.
"I've been left at the altar a couple of times now," the president responded, rueful but distinctly peeved. And who wouldn't be?The truth is, Boehner couldn't get his Frankenstein Freshman clones, the pledge puppets, to go along with the deal, and so, rather than lose face by admitting to the real problem (which would likely cost him his job), he did what Republicans always do in the Age of Obama: raise the gun smoothly, look over to his right, and then in full view, shoot down the president.
I have to agree with Andrew Sullivan who states "The GOP believe they can destroy the U.S. and global economy and from the wreckage ensure Obama is not reelected. That is their sole guiding principle. They terrify me....What Cantor and Boehner are doing is essentially letting the world know they have an economic WMD in their possession. And it will go off if you do not give them everything they want, with no negotiation possible."
While I was writing this, NPR did a quick interview with Norquist, who stated that it had not been necessary to twist anybody's arm to get them to sign his Taxpayer Protection Pledge before the 2010 election. "They are all true believers," he said. Whenever you increase taxes, he further explained, politicians spend more--and that is not the way to shrink government. For the record, Congress first agreed to raise the debt limit in 1917 to fund World War I. Since then it has done so 102 times without ever being a partisan or a contentious issue, or being used as a tool to blackmail the president.
Norquist's influence in all of this cannot be overstated. However, when asked if he was worried that perhaps he might get the blame if the government defaults or loses its triple A credit rating, he responded, without missing a beat, "No. Obama will." Defending himself earlier in a New York Times op ed this week, Norquist wrote: "Contrary to the hopes of some that I am somehow softening the pledge, it is stronger and more important than ever: it has made it easier for members of Congress to credibly commit to voters that they will refuse to increase taxes and instead focus on reducing the cost of government."
I've asked myself several times already in these pages the question of when intractable obstructionism from Republicans that damages American interests morphs into treason. The answer, I see now, is never--or only when it will be too late, which at this point in time, could be as soon as next week. Mark Halperin of Time magazine writes: "It will probably take a market crash to get enough House Republicans willing to compromise." In Washington's current GOP, compromise is the new dirty word. "When Grover Norquist, the de facto head of the Republican Congress, has defined bipartisanship as 'date rape,' and any tax increase as heresy." a regular commenter to the New York Times' columns wrote recently online, "you can see why the GOP has boxed itself right into a corner."
Finally, allow me to indulge in the poignant words of yet another reader's comment: "If I hear Boehner or that creep Cantor moan one more time about not putting a 'tax burden' on the wealthy who create all these wonderful jobs, I'll vomit." To which I would add that maybe, when all is said and done, THIS is the way the world ends, not with a bang, but with a vomit.