Bob Woodward's new book, The Price of Politics is a whopper. Similar to the author's description of President Obama's reaction after the Republicans swept the mid-term elections, it was a gut-punch to my solar plexus. The true account, laid out through intense and meticulous interviews with President Obama and members of Congress, reveals their leadership failure to restore the economy and create a more sustainable future. This information on the instability of our country is not new. What is new and more frightening is just how close the United States came to defaulting on our debt as a country, and as we neared the cliff -- more horrifying -- we learn that Congress was in the driver's seat pushing the gas pedal to the floor.
No one is without blame. Our country did not get to this place in history without plenty of missed opportunities to review and change direction. It is clear that our current form of government, our two-party system, is mired in gridlock. This gridlock -- or the inability to resolve critical issues -- is destroying our country. The Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United has created a fast moving flash flood that guts any semblance of citizen representation. In parts of the book, Congress is too busy playing party politics with the singular goal of ensuring that President Obama is a one term president and that he is completely humiliated in the process. The focus on politics over work, in a critical juncture, is the single most frustrating aspect of Washington right now. Nothing is getting done.
The idea that the focus of our leaders, in the debt debate was to smash our president, "one bone-crushing blow at a time," goes beyond any cynical idea that I may have harbored towards our politicians. Some congressional representatives wanted nothing less than the annihilation of the man and his purpose, so that they may hand the Tea Party a reason to celebrate. These acts bear no resemblance to the historical Boston Tea Party.
Like today, our predecessors were fighting taxation and corporate control of our government. At that time, "The Tea Act" was essentially a bailout policy for the lumbering, powerful and multinational British East India Company, which had been sinking into debt."
However, today's Tea Party -- in their desire to stop tax increases -- have inserted themselves into the internal process of government and damaged any possible compromise. All 244 elected officials who signed Grover Norquist's tax pledge have limited their options in congressional negotiations. When both parties attempt to walk through the maze of viable options, they simply cannot ignore the elephant in the room. (No pun intended.) Or a better analogy: as Princess Diana had once said, "I hadn't realized there were three of us in this relationship."
The second issue I have with the Tea Party is their backers. It's no secret that one of the largest financial supporters of the group is the billionaire Koch brothers. The Koch Industries is the second largest private company in America. It is also the most politically active. This group has historically manipulated the market for their own profit, and are now funding and manipulating a group to their own end.
To be clear, and throughout the lengthy days of the debt crisis, it is obvious the president was not engaged enough. As I read, I wondered if Obama had the right team around him. Other questions arose: Is there is a suitable infrastructure within the White House to get things done? Were their too many competing interests amongst our politicians, fueled by the influence of money? Finally, did Obama need to display a more steely-eyed courage and negotiate his way to a much bigger debt deal?
The most unsettling part of this book is the level of contempt given by our elected officials to a sitting president of the United States of America. The level of disrespect to the highest elected office in our country was appalling. Have we really sunk this far into the gutter in our national conversations? Unreturned phone calls, strategies blown up, wasted fire drills; one wonders if our representatives truly understand the cumulative damage done globally, the doubt they instilled in our business leaders who hold back on building new plants and hiring more people, and the despair they have given to every Americans who struggle to survive these tumultuous times.
In one particular passage from book, President Obama called John Boehner's office a number of times within a 24-hour period. The speaker of the House never picked up the phone call from the president or returned any of the calls that Obama made. These calls were not about playing another round of gulf. Boehner was receiving these calls at the crux of the debt crisis with just hours from word leaking to the global community that America could not pay its bills.
The United States Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geitner, was panicked. He was shouting through the hallways, stunned that Congress would be so reckless. He shouted, "Humpty Dumpty is going to fall." In the midst of this mayhem our speaker of the House, refused to even call our leader back, let alone negotiate a debt deal. I cannot help but wonder if there is some subconscious racial divide that we have not addressed? Is it that simple? Can we find any remotely rational idea for this destructive behavior? Is it true, has our political process been taken over by radicals who want to win, at all costs? Have these people gone off the deep end-or worse-are they sending us over the deep end? None of these answers comforts me.
Bob Woodward captures a very compelling picture of our immature; irresponsible sitting leaders who would force the victims -- you and me -- poised to suffer through a complete meltdown of our financial system, so that they could win. If American defaulted, the fallout would be catastrophic. Experts can guess about the consequences -- most have said, this event would cause the worst depression in the history of our country, financial ruin and American credibility destroyed. If the country could ever recover, it would take many generations.
Any single one of these issues is enough for a sane individual to understand the need to grab Humpty Dumpty quickly, before he falls. One cannot help when reading The Price of Politics to come to a conclusion that Congress pushed Humpty Dumpy over the edge. Once they pushed him, they avoided addressing the debt issue until 2013, when we are obligated by law to cut 2.4 trillion from spending. The cataclysmic damage that these 535 members of Congress are doing to our country, in their dysfunctional, arrogant desire to maintain power and win at all costs is unfathomable.
The bigger problem is us. We are Humpty Dumpty, trying to stay afloat, pushing our kids to learn despite the degradation of our schools. So many of us are searching for jobs, overqualified, we need to keep healthy, keep working or risk losing our life savings within a myriad of broken systems: medical, judicial, immigrant. No matter what side of the chasm you stand on, those we selected to represent us are fundamentally destroying everything that came before us that was "The United States of America." Some people know this. Some, like Geithner, were waving their hands in the air, trying to get Congress to realize the implications of their actions.
Timing is the most critical issue. We do not have time to wait until 2013. While Congress creates more committees that fail to resolve issues, we are out of time. At one point, when the bickering is at its worst, lest the president, a lawyer, needs reminding, John Boehner says, "Mr. President, as I read the Constitution, the Congress writes the laws. You get to decide if you want to pass them." At another passage, the increasingly frustrated president challenges Cantor, who is trying to shove a deal down Obama's throat, with a provision Obama had said was unacceptable from the beginning. Obama finally had enough and turned to Cantor, who had already managed to splinter a group of politicians in his party and create his own fiefdom, was working at cross-purposes to Boehner. "Eric," Obama says in that calm, controlled exterior. "There are consequences to elections... And I won."
Who is really winning? Hostage talking, dysfunctional processes, power drunk plays, a constant game of chicken, press leaks, back room tallying of who won -- some of these educated leaders welcome the default, in fact one could argue many hands jumped in to help push the vehicle over the cliff. Why? Because their end goal was to absolutely, and completely ensure that President Obama would not get re-elected. Democrats were no better. They took advantage of the Republicans position and spun it this way. "Let the thing default, and we blame the Republicans."
It was at that precise moment my flashback happened. I could see the caulking between the white painted bricks. Humpty's legs dangled effortlessly over the edge as he gazed out at the fall colors. Nearby, a group of pre-school boys were standing bare-foot in the sandbox. Not paying attention, Humpty lost his balance and was swinging his arms doing everything he could to hang on. He called out to the boys for help. As I looked to him, I could see Humpty began to topple over -- down, down, down.
The boys ignored him, oblivious to his cries for help. Each boy continued to compare and cajole, boasting their way to what they saw as the top prize; to be the best, the winner, the one with the largest cajones. Please tell me that in the year 2012, facing a debt crisis that could disembowel our country, that our elected officials are not acting like a bunch of pre-school boys fighting over who has the largest penis?
History will judge our incompetent leaders and this time period harshly. Lest we think we are off the hook as common citizens -- think again. We are the enablers -- those who don't vote, the maimed, the broken -- and we still will go "splat."