So it's not about the deficit after all.
For months we've heard the increasingly shrill alarms being sounded by supposedly sober-minded Republican Congressional leaders that America is the next Greece -- balancing carefully over a debt precipice, destruction inevitable unless radical action is taken.
These alarms have been so effective that the true nature of our national crisis -- chronic unemployment at unacceptably high levels, overall slack economic demand -- has been relegated to a secondary plane of importance. Some 20 million people unemployed or under employed are not just a human tragedy but a major contributor to our still under-performing economy.
The GOP trope that the federal government deficit is somehow responsible for high unemployment defies common sense and basic economics. Yet this fallacy is repeated often and loudly as if it were a proven fact. Meanwhile, the chairman of the Federal Reserve recently told Congress that the Fed is ready to take even more aggressive action -- read some massive stimulus -- if the economy falters.
So we come to the intransigence of Republican "negotiators" trying to hammer out some compromise to raise the debt ceiling with the Democrats. It would seem that these elected leaders' responsibility to the country, their oaths of office, is seemingly trumped by their religious oath to Grover Norquist, the founder of special interest group Americans for Tax Reform and the godfather of the "all taxes are evil" movement, to never raise taxes regardless of the economic conditions
This fetishistic oath, seemingly sworn and signed in blood, has kept the Republicans from saying "yes" to President Obama's offer for raising the nation's debt ceiling -- a deal that would whack some $4 trillion dollars from the national deficit.
Charlie Cook, one of America's most respected non-partisan political analysts, is brutal on the Republican's stance on the debt ceiling -- and thinks that it may cost them the support of Independent voters in 2012. Cook writes in the National Journal:
...What has happened is that the New Republican Party has come to hate taxes a lot more than it hates deficits and the country's growing indebtedness. It has rewritten history to omit any acknowledgment that President Reagan, when it was necessary, went along with tax increases. The memory of Reagan accepting tax increases, however reluctantly, has been supplanted by President George H.W. Bush's fateful decision to go along with tax increases in the 1990 budget negotiations.
What the New Republican Party remembers is Bush losing reelection, not the fact that those tax increases were pivotal in eliminating the federal budget deficit under President Clinton and in the resulting period of strong economic growth. Bush's loss is remembered, and the period of fiscal responsibility is forgotten. At least history will treat Bush 41 with more gratitude than his own party does...
Why did the Congressional Republicans walk away from the biggest deficit reduction pact in history?
Based on a several recently published polls, Americans everywhere outside of Washington are befuddled by their elected leaders' stance in these negotiations.
A new CBSNews poll found that "only 21 percent of the people surveyed said they approved of Republicans' handling of the negotiations, while 71 percent disapprove." Other recent polls point to a similarly stark divide between Republican voters and their elected representatives.
So why walk away from a great deal to shrink the government deficit? Could the "of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%" be the reason? A recent article in Vanity Fair by Nobel-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz is as cogent as it is alarming:
Americans have been watching protests against oppressive regimes that concentrate massive wealth in the hands of an elite few. Yet in our own democracy, 1 percent of the people take nearly a quarter of the nation's income -- an inequality even the wealthy will come to regret.
Stiglitz goes on to say that enlightened self-interest -- the patriotic desire for the whole country to prosper, for the middle-class to thrive, so you too can be successful - should provoke the "1%" to support policies that improve the whole of society, not just those initiatives that dump tax benefits to the wealthiest Americans paid for by the middle class.
Warren Buffett, the iconic self-made American man, is clear on this subject. No one has made a dime in this country without the unique advantages that America offers, he repeats and repeats. From an ethos of fairness, hard work and sacrifice, to a belief (at least in classical American mythology) that any kid can grow up to be president, the success of every American is tied to, as the U.S. Constitution states in its preamble "the general Welfare."
Stiglitz writes that the 1% no longer identify with the bottom 99% -- and that this division is bad for all Americans, rich, middle class and poor.
When the "1%" fund and elect elect representatives that are committed to the welfare of that "1%" at the expense of the 99%, we find ourselves in a dire situation with negatively profound implications to the future of America and our ability to remain the world's leader.
In fact, we find ourselves in a self-created, completely avoidable, national crisis that shatters Americans' faith in their own government while also damaging America's standing in the world.