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Terence Smith Headshot

Sheer Folly

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I took a break from the endless debt-ceiling debate over the weekend.

We attended a wedding in Massachusetts, stopped by the wonderful FDR Presidential Library in Hyde Park on the way back to Washington and even dug into some family roots around Morristown, NJ. Five days on the road, mostly away from television news and the back-and-forth between Obama and Boehner. It was a relief, frankly.

I fully expected that the crisis would be history by the time I returned last night. But no, the president and the Republican leaders in Congress are still standing firm and the clock is ticking more loudly as default approaches.

What are they thinking?

Politically, this standoff is a loser for both sides. Public confidence in that fictional monolith, "Washington," has never been lower. Of course the markets are nervous, the dollar is falling and gold is adding value every day.

What are they thinking?

It is sheer folly to believe that voters will reward one side or the other. All the public opinion surveys show that Americans want a solution that avoids a destructive default, even with a compromise that involves tax increases or spending cuts that they might not fully support. The message to Congress and the president is clear: "Get it done."

What are they thinking?

Instead, "compromise" has become a dirty word, a sign of political weakness, at least in the minds of those being asked to accommodate. Can they really believe they will be applauded for standing firm? Politically, it seems suicidal.

Never in the 40 years that I have been writing about Washington has the atmosphere been so poisonous, the language so bitter, the vision so blinkered, the concern for the national good so -- dare I say it? -- compromised. I recognize that the debt and deficit are important issues. Not nearly as important as jobs and the economy, but significant for the much-advertised "full faith and credit" of the United States.

It seems like sheer folly to diddle with the dollar. The most creative idea I read over the weekend was to do away with the debt ceiling altogether. There is no requirement in the Constitution that we impose one. Many nations do well without one. But that idea is not on the table.

What are they thinking?

TERENCE SMITH is a journalist. His website is