Most Americans came home Monday night after a long day at work to find President Obama preempting their favorite TV shows. Having reached an impasse with the Congress over raising the debt ceiling, Obama took his case took his case to the American people. This is not the first time the president has reached out to us in the face of partisan stalemate. With this Congress, it is won't be the last.
Like most Americans, I am frustrated by the debate over the debt ceiling. I am irate at the Tea Party for creating the crisis in the first place by linking debt default to deficit reduction. I am perplexed by House leader John Boehner for being unable to control his ranks to bring the freshman agitators to the negotiating table. I am disappointed that the Democrats (and Obama) did not preemptively deal with the debt at a time when they controlled both houses of Congress.
For months, the failure of leadership has been plentiful. And now, in our in final days, compromise is scarce.
Despite our economic setbacks, we are still a strong country. We do not have the problems of a Greece, Ireland or Japan. We are still (as of one minute ago) the world's gold standard -- the trusted place to put one's money in a time of turmoil. But that visage is quickly disappearing as our politicians wreak havoc on our political system. America is not a failed nation. But we are a nation with failed leadership.
Despite what the Tea Partiers may say, this crisis is self-created. We are doing it to ourselves. And to the countries that really have problems, America seems like a tribe of self-loathing, eye-bulging, tongue-wagging lunatics ready to plunge the dagger into our own bellies.
Monday night, President Obama appealed appealed to our sense of fairness and balance. He acknowledged that, yes, we have a huge debt problem, but that we all have to sacrifice to fix it. That includes the wealthy, the privileged, and the oil companies. We need spending cuts, but we also need tax increases. And that's where he and the House Republicans -- who will accept no tax increases -- differ. President Obama convincingly said, "How can we ask a student to pay more for college before we ask a hedge fund manager to stop paying taxes at a lower rate than their secretaries?"
Republican leader John Boehner spoke directly after the president, indicating that that his party would not budge. He accused the president of being a spendthrift by wasting money on his health care plan and stimulus package. He said the president "wanted a blank check six months ago; and he wants one today."
Boehner made the case that Americans do not want an increase in the debt ceiling without significant debt reduction, which is why the House passed the "Cut, Cap, Balance Act." Boehner erroneously stated that herein was the compromise. There is "no stalemate." Curious, because the Senate never (and will never) vote for this bill.
Boehner barked barked that "the bigger the government the smaller the people," intoning that the Democrats were the ones who were being petty. He stated that "crisis atmosphere" had been "created by President Obama." A bizarre comment for the man who himself stirred the bubbling caldron of the Macbethian witches who first linked deficit reduction to the debt ceiling -- something very new in American politics indeed.
President Obama called Boehner's a "dangerous game." And dangerous it is. By defaulting not only do we run the risk of crippling domestic needs like Social Security, veteran's pensions and Medicare payments, we also will send interest rates though the roof, increasing the price of everything from credit card debt to auto loans to the money we pay to finance the debt itself. Ironically, by holding us hostage, the Tea Partiers are making the debt problem worse not better.
The sad truth is that much damage has already been done. Even if we did come up with a compromise now, the rest of the world has observed our farcical dance on the cliff's edge. China is already quietly divesting itself of American bonds, building up their own markets to finance their growth. Others follow suit.
The president rightly dismissed Boehner's offer of extending the debt ceiling. "We'd just be held hostage again six months from now," he said. Further, "the offer would likely not be enough to avoid a credit downgrade and higher interest rates."
The president is right. We need to send a signal to the world that America does not have an economic death wish. But we can only do that with a massive, fast reversal of leadership. And that requires compromise -- the dirtiest word of all in Washington.