What a bizarre spectacle of irresponsible brinkmanship! The ultimate House and Senate votes may have narrowly averted immediate fiscal crisis and tax increases, but they do not restore one iota of confidence in the legislative branch of American government.
President Barack Obama, after failing to exert the leadership the American people hoped for, immediately boarded Air Force One to resume a Hawaiian vacation with his family. What can he be thinking?
To put the cherry on top of the whipped cream, the House of Representatives did not even approve the Senate-passed bill providing assistance to victims of Hurricane Sandy! What can they be thinking?
Leaders of this failed Congress proved themselves irrelevant. The “new” Congress — mostly the same, old, gerrymandered incumbents — will take office with a popularity rating of zero.
With the president in Hawaii and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the hospital, Vice President Joe Biden is the only national leader with credibility. If America were a banana republic, the vice president and the military would take over in the power vacuum and attempt to form a government out of the shambles.
We appear to be at the nadir of an interregnum that will not end with the new Congress or the inauguration of the re-elected president.
It is tempting to say that the government and the economy can’t possibly get any worse. But the truth is, both probably will get worse.
One sign of hope and change may go almost unreported. It is President Obama’s parting promise, before leaving town, that he will not engage in another debate with Republicans over whether the country will pay bills it has already incurred.
If Obama steadfastly refuses to engage in another round of brinkmanship over raising the national debt ceiling, it could be a turning point, for good or ill. It could, in fact, turn into extreme brinkmanship. I can imagine three scenarios:
- The president resolutely demands a no-strings-attached increase in the debt ceiling, and Republicans concede.
- Neither the president nor Republicans concede, and the nation defaults on its debt.
- The president asserts a Constitutional guarantee that the debt of the United States cannot be called into question. The ensuing Constitutional crisis would be resolved by the Supreme Court.
All three of the above scenarios are unlikely. Probably the president and Republicans will have another round of negotiations, leading to another short- or medium-term compromise and another deadline. In popular parlance, the can will be kicked down the road, again.
In that case, the dance of death, the downward spiral, continues. The decline ends in an epic economic crash. Or a miraculous, spontaneous economic recovery.
Or the decline does not end in the near term, the nation survives to the next election, and Joe Biden is elected president.
(Concluding note: The effort to make sense out of the first news of 2013 leaves me exhausted and confused. I suspect the rest of the nation feels the same way, although most will not waste as much time puzzling over it. To readers in other nations, please know that I’m a humble blogger with no inside information and no crystal ball. The views expressed represent only my own exasperation.)
Somehow, some way, we will get through this embarrassing mess. I’m almost positive of it.
— John Hayden
- Obama calls for less ‘drama,’ ‘brinkmanship’ (politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com)
- Fiscal cliff deal passed by House of Representatives (guardian.co.uk)