The Perfect as the Enemy of the Good

I wrote recently about how catastrophic a failure to raise the debt ceiling would be. Now there is danger of an outcome nearly as bad; indeed, in a long view, probably worse. That would be to raise the debt ceiling by some gimmicky fudge without a big agreement on future budget cuts.

Or phony promises of cuts, like those in Obamacare enabling Democrats to falsely claim it would save money.

Until now, the Republicans seemed to be playing chicken, willing to crash the economy if the Democrats didn’t swerve first and give up on tax increases. Now it seems the Republicans are the chickens, suddenly terrified they’ll be blamed for the crash. To avoid this, while also refusing to budge on taxes, they seem willing to settle for nothing at all.

It’s a classic case of the perfect as the enemy of the good. It might make sense for the Republicans to insist on the perfect if they held all the levers of power. But they don’t. It’s the essence of democratic give-and-take that with power divided, each side must give up some of what it wants in order to get some of what it wants. But in today’s politics, “compromise” translates as “treason.”

As part of the answer, Republicans are pushing a “balanced budget amendment.” Oh, please. What a crock of merde. “Balanced budget amendment” is one of those chimaeras that lips endlessly flap about (“high speed rail” is another”) but don’t mean squat in practical reality. Such an amendment will never get into the constitution. And if it did, it would be meaningless anyway, because there’d be ways around it, just like with Gramm-Rudman and other previous attempts by Congress to don a spending straitjacket. And if the amendment were an ironclad straitjacket, that would actually be crazy stupid. Look at California, tangled in a skein of such budgetary straitjackets imposed by past referenda.

The idea is that we can somehow accomplish by gimmickry what we can’t accomplish by actually accomplishing. Endorsing a “balanced budget amendment” is a politician’s way to pose in faux fiscal rectitude without having to walk the walk. Totally chickenshit. Any candidate who utters the words “balanced budget amendment” should be executed on the spot. (Likewise any who mouths “waste, fraud and abuse.”)

What is so disheartening is that this debt ceiling situation is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to detour the huge fiscal train-wreck looming down the tracks. We’ve got to stop piling up debt at the rate of over a trillion dollars a year. If the train cannot be stopped – okay, at least slowed – here, it’s hard to see how it ever can be. Republicans were supposed to come to Washington to do just that. And they’ve got the Democrats by the balls. But it looks like they’re muffing it. They’ve been offered a deal with trillions in spending cuts, but won’t take “yes” for an answer. What chickenshits.

Trouble is, a big group of Tea Party Republicans in the House say they won’t vote to raise the debt ceiling under any circumstances. Not only is that dumb and irresponsible, it is also political self-emasculation. Because it means a debt ceiling bill can’t pass without Democratic votes. So the Republicans will need Democratic votes in order to escape getting blamed for a blow-up. And that means it’s actually the Democrats who have the Republicans by the balls.

I also suspect many of these Republicans are really much like the population at large. They want smaller government, lower deficits, lower spending. But name a program – any program (except foreign aid of course) – and, Heavens no, don’t cut that! We’re becoming a nation of spoiled brats who are all in favor of austerity imposed on someone else.

Lest you think this post is just partisan hatchetry, I actually still consider myself a Republican. And I do assign a lot of blame to President Obama too. His leadership has been pathetic, starting with his refusal to endorse, even generally, in concept, the eminently sensible recommendations of his own Simpson-Bowles Commission. Obama seems like he’d be perfectly happy if this whole thing would just go away and the government could just keep on merrily shoving money out the door – laissez les bons temps rouler. Obama doesn’t even seem to grasp the concept of leadership. Rather, he seems to see himself as the national mediator-in-chief – the United States Community Organizer.

[NOTE: There will be a hiatus of about 3 weeks on this blog, as I’ll be traveling.]

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4 Responses to “The Perfect as the Enemy of the Good”

  1. neal Says:

    Excellent points….

    We aren’t becoming a nation of spoiled brats…In many cases we are already there.

    The only losers in this great debate aren’t the republicans or the democrats (as some will be reelected no matter what their stance on this issue is), the loser is the American people, and our future generations.

  2. Scott Perlman Says:

    Excellent post. I could have written it except my thoughts are not as organized as yours and I am not even close to you in writing skills. But other than that…..
    I wrote about this issue, even before it became an issue, last November in my blog (http://scottperlman.typepad.com/weblog/2010/11/index.html) titled, “It’s a Plan, Dammit!” This was about the presidential 18 member bipartisan commission lead by former Republican Senator Alan Simpson and former Democratic White House official Erskine Bowles. They released a draft of a plan that would significantly reduce the federal deficit. Perfect? Not even close. Good enough? In my review it would reduce the deficit to 2.2% of GDP by 2015, which is quite sustainable.
    Did I have some issues with this plan? Plenty. But I believe we would be in much better financial shape today had we implemented it last year.

  3. Lee Says:

    Ralph Nader has some thoughts on this topic.

  4. The End is FAR Says:

    There is another option that is not being discussed and that is defaulting on the debt that is owned by the Federal Reserve. This will buy the US a great amount of time to restructure the Federal Govt’s responsibilities, assets, and debt.

    They own about $1.6 Trillion which purchased on the backs of Americans, no effort on the owners at all.

    There is also a way to transition away from the Central Planning that led to this fiscal and moral crisis. It is called Subsidiarity and it is worth considering because the end is far . . .

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