“Democrats in retreat,” reads a headline today at politicalwire.com, the lively web site of Taegan Goddard, author of the book, “You Won — Now What?”
He then goes on to recount a series of retreats by Democrats in the debt-ceiling debate. Among other things, he notes, Democrats have backed away from insisting on balancing tax hikes and revenue cuts, something a majority of the public supports and true fiscal responsibility demands.
But then, there is nothing new here. The Democratic Party, after all, is the party that turned tail before the last election, when it had majorities in both chambers of Congress, rather than forcing a vote to rescind the Bush era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. It was a gutless act, one which in my view hurt rather than helped the Democratic Party and president in the Tea Party assault of November 2010. And the Democrats’ failure to reimpose reasonable taxes on the rich — or at least put the issue in stark relief for the public — also hastened the debt-ceiling crisis the U.S. government faces today.
In case, you’re wondering, I’ve neither found Jesus nor the GOP. But I, like plenty of Americans today, do feel as though my future, including retirement someday, is in the hands of politicians who stand for little more than getting re-elected. The one exception to this characterization can be found among the Tea Party zealots who have cowed other members of the GOP, and increasingly Democrats, into buying, or at least accepting, their false beliefs that a government can operate without revenues and without spending. This leaves the rest of us in a mess: the take-no-prisoners and make-no-sense Tea Party versus the spineless Democrats, who increasingly stand for nothing more substantive than being slightly less venal and heartless than Republicans. Nor is the news media much help as it breathlessly measures who is winning and who is losing instead of shedding some light on what will happen when the avalanche gaining speed and weight coming down the slope lands on our collective heads sometimes next week.
For the record, raising the debt ceiling is not a new concept. In this country, it already has been raised 102 times. But in less than a decade, the debt has leapfrogged from $6.4 trillion (in 2002) to $14.3 trillion today. I won’t waste a lot of time savaging Republicans. But it must be noted that under presidency of Republican George W. Bush, according to an excellent graphic in The New York Times (see multimedia link), the deficit rose $6.2 trillion. This is something approaching three times the debt run up by Barack Obama while trying to reverse a deep recession spawned by W. and crew. It was the Bush administration that impoverished us with two underfunded wars, that increased the immense gap between rich and poor, that spent us to a really dangerous level of debt while cutting taxes on everything from capital gains to inheritance for the wealthy.
That, however, does not make me a fan of today’s Democratic Party. I’m not. First off, the Obama Administration and Congress should not have let this crisis creep to the 11th hour. Secondly, it desperately needs a spine transplant — and that includes the president.
He should have drawn a line in the sand on a mixed expenditure cut-tax hike solution and, if Republicans refused to play ball, claimed authority to raise the debt limit under an obscure provision of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which, in Barack Obama’s words, “speaks to making sure that the United States meets its obligations.”
Sometimes presidents need to show through their actions that, to quote Harry Truman, “the buck stops here.” If George W. Bush could get away with mandating a rationale for torture — in the form of waterboarding — against alleged terrorists without being impeached, then Barack Obama could and can claim the right to preserve the country from collapsing into default and becoming the laughing stock of the world.
So far, though, despite the urging of Democrats in Congress and former President Bill Clinton, Obama has declined to follow this course. And those same Democrats in Congress waffle and whimper while the Tea Party pulls the Republican Party from the realm of highly conservative to downright Neanderthal.
I’d say it’s time to retire elsewhere. But then, after the collapse of American government, very few of us may have the means to retire at all.