The president went to Washington determined to end the bitter bickering and deep divide between the two parties. Despite what the Republicans have said, he has reached out to find compromise, been cautious and moderate, and searched endlessly for common ground. For two years this approach went nowhere. During the lame duck Congress, a few goodies passed both houses and became law.
But now that approach is over. It is clear that Republicans will abandon even there own policies (i.e. cutting business taxes) to oppose the president. They prefer economic weakening, increased unemployment and national gridlock to any achievement that might be credited to the Democrats or the president. As in their 2008 rejections of the Paulsen rescue of the economy--passing that chore to the Democrats--they would sacrifice the nation's economy for political victory.
On the debt limit their position becomes more extreme each day, and it is no longer theater. Starting with rejecting any stimulus including tax cuts, committed to no new taxes, rejecting proposals to reduce subsidies to oil conglomerates making profits exceeding 35 billion in the first quarter of 2011, they have turned their backs on discussions and flatly stated their positions as non-negotiable.
But they have now gone one step further: They say, and appear to believe, that not increasing the debt limit poses no problem for the country, the economy and the world. They state that the Federal Government must simply choose to pay legal obligations on the debt and not pay entitlements, perhaps social security or medicare--military costs of course come first. The government, they say, will limp along, a proper pace for government. Some Republicans welcome default; others find it wholly acceptable, if perhaps not without minor risks.
When in a game of chicken one party is pleased to go over the cliff--seeing the cliff as a mere lip, capitulation or catastrophe must follow. Either route for the Democrats and for the country will lead to disaster. But we must be prepared to go over the cliff.
Further discussion with Republicans is useless. Their base and their leadership are fully committed to no revenue increases and huge, current spending cuts which will crush the recovery.
Now, the president must change course. He has the bully pulpit. He has 30 days to educate the American people. Quiet talk will not do it; closed-door meetings will not do it. The Republican locomotive, fueled by the Tea Party base, is prepared to experience the flight of default. Speaker Boehner may in the past few weeks have thought that he could control the locomotive. Minority leader McConnell might once have thought such control important. For both, they no longer have control nor apparently the motivation to prevent a default. They are presenting the debt limit increase as something "Obama wants." Going off the cliff is to be portrayed as Obama's failure.
Mr. President, you have 30 days to change the public perception of debt default and of responsibility for the calamity. Every day spent talking to Republican leaders wastes invaluable time. This is our domestic Munich! Start arming. If you are not prepared to be Chamberlain, you had best prepared for war and for use of the guns in August.