The United States is in the grip of a political drama the likes of which no one has yet seen before.
Imagine a group taking a family hostage and demanding that their relatives give up the hard won property, money and basic rights they had worked so hard for so as to get that hostage back. The reason for the hostage taking in the first place are spurious, but so enshrined in the belief system of the hostage takers as to beyond reason, especially reason based on evidence. If they called themselves the Taliban and declared their mission a jihad, the full resources of the United States would be deployed against them.
In this case, they are called the Republican Party, their hostage is the American people, their belief system is a jihad on the idea that the State should enable equity and reduce poverty and their jihad is based upon poor evidence, a paucity of ideas and very shallow thinking. In fact, they have had no new ideas since their previous Jihad leader, Newt Gingrich, advances exactly the same thinking in 1996.
What it looks like is this: the GOP believe that deficits and debt are intrinsically bad, no matter that the deficit is falling in the US and that some level of US debt is inevitable, given the nature of its economy. They blame social security, Medicare and Medicaid and Obamacare for the deficit and debt and point to fiscal forecasts of impending doom as costs of these services rise as a result of the retiring baby boomers. Their solution is to make massive cuts in these essential services (essential to enable social mobility, economic stability and growth) and to cut taxes on the rich and corporations. They still believe in trickle down economics, despite countless demonstrations of its lack of efficacy. They still believe in austerity, despite growing evidence that this leads to economic decline, widespread unemployment (especially amongst the young) and to growing social inequity.
The GOP is staggered by President Obama’s refusal to negotiate while the government is shutdown and while an established tradition of the US congress (automatic renewal of the debt ceiling) is broken and bipartisan politics appears “dead” as a Dodo. But he is following the standard policy of dealing with terrorists and Jihadists – no negotiation with hostage takers. He is simply saying, lets go back to a functioning Government (which includes raising the debt ceiling) and then we can discuss a strategy for the future of the economy. He will not compromise, and for the sake of good government, should not do so.
The Ryan idea of saying OK, we can go back to being a government for six weeks and we can raise the debt ceiling for six weeks while we start to cut social and health services is a dead-duck. Its rather like saying, we will give you your hostage back for a few days, but we will take them back again if you don’t do exactly as we ask. Who would agree to that?
Paul Ryan, the totally vacuous Chair of the House Budget Committee, has no new ideas. John Boehner, Speaker of the House of Representatives, has no new ideas. Neither are interested in an evidence based conversation. The democrats are criticized for having the idea of a strong and abiding commitment to equity through the redistribution of wealth – their core policy for the last sixty years. The lack of movement is seen as a reality TV show by the media who seem preoccupied with winners and losers. It looks to sensible people like the end of reason, which in fact it largely is.
So what will happen? Obama will not budge and all the evidence points to the Republicans failing to win the argument, so no deal. The US will default and then the President will act unilaterally and be subject to impeachment.
Aside from the economic consequence of all of this, there are consequences for our understanding of government and governance. The US Congress is dysfunctional – not just as a result of this current debacle but from the whole period since the middle of Bush 2’s second term. Agreed, Obama is a weak and ineffective President (good on promise and imagination, weak of execution) – but only Johnson could be seen to be a President who could stick handle this kind of nonsense. The most worrying consequence of all of this is that the US can be seen not to have a Government that anyone could take seriously.