To understand the underlying dynamic driving this misappropriation of political and economic concern, you have to see it for what it actually is - an ideologically driven political tactic. There are certain primary goals of the American Political Right, and to a large extent they can be summed up as A.) transferring as much wealth as possible from the poor and middle class to the wealthiest Americans and B.) preventing the downward distributional transfer of wealth from the wealthy to the poor. Every position they take and every issue they involve themselves in can only be understood when viewed through this lens. By coordinating a unified message that deficit spending is the greatest threat to the union in recent memory, they can convince the electorate that they must, in the name of the very survival of the nation, accept significant pain as the government is force to cut programs they depend on, from education and Pell grants to state and local aid to unemployment benefits and access to health care. Of course, their utter incoherence on tax policy, the theory that even as clear and present a threat as the deficit represents, taxes can never be raised in any form and indeed must be reduced for corporations and top earners should expose the entire argument for the fraudulent political tactic it is. But alas, it never does.
So they come, like a flock of Valkyries in green eyeshades, this 112th Congress will descend on Washington with but a single, overarching mandate: Cut government spending to decrease the deficit. No tax increases and no increases in the deficit will be allowed. And so we arrive at the crux of the matter. Back in February of this year the congress raised the statutory debt ceiling to 14.3 trillion dollars. In their very first month in session, the new Congress will have to raise it again, or the government will be unable to continue to function. Now understand, there is no reason why they couldn't raise the debt ceiling to allow government to continue to operate while they craft their supposed debt reduction legislative agenda. But since it's not really about the deficit at all, and no one in congress really has any intention of actually doing anything that significantly decreases the US debt, symbolic gestures become important. Things like a moratorium on earmarks, which has been at the forefront of conservative deficit foment for years, and which does precisely nothing to reduce the deficit. And things like the debt ceiling. By refusing to increase the debt ceiling, they accomplish several things. They show their spending cutting bona fides without really cutting spending. They throw yet more sand into the gears of "big government" in general and the much loathed Obama administration in particular. And of course, they shut down the government.
Newt Gingrich, never much of a team player, has already gone ahead and spilled the beans on their game plan. They will give Obama a budget full of such draconian cuts, one that so reduces the government's ability to provide services and meet existing demands that he will be unable to sign it. Hence, the cry will go up, it is Obama who is preventing the operation of government. With a single stroke of the pen he could end the dispute and get back to the business of governance. But remember, it is as it has always been with the teabaggers. It is their own crass, ham fisted stupidity that is their own worst enemy. We've seen for the last two years how quick the President is to capitulate, how willing he is to bargain away core progressive positions for a pittance, or even, frequently, for nothing at all. A classic pol, he seems to have no central guiding principles, but rather a willingness to sacrifice whatever is necessary on the altar of political expediency in order to take what he can get. I feel certain that if Boehner were to send Obama a budget filled with radical right wing economic ideology, with no sop to the progressive caucus and deep, painful cuts to social programs and safety nets, but one which preserved JUST enough of the status quo that signing it would not lead to outright chaos, Obama would back down in short order. It is only the fact that they can be reliably counted on to overstep, reach for too much on their opening gambit, that will prevent the predictable Democratic surrender and lead us into the most dangerous game of political chicken we've ever seen.
The path to a full government shutdown is clear. The path to it's resolution may not exist. Nothing good will flow from it, and to add offensive insult to sickening injury, the best hope we have is that American business, particularly the financial sector and the Chamber of Commerce step in and reign in their attack dogs in order to preserve their profits. And when we're reduced to hoping that the same greedy plutocrats who put us in this horrific position and nearly destroyed America in the process will come to our rescue, even if only as an unintended consequence of them saving themselves, that's when we realize how badly it's all gotten away from us. The new year does not bode well for us.
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