While I understand, and certainly credit the legitimacy of various explanations for why so many Americans are not well versed in how their government operates or the nuts and bolts of politics or the nitty-gritty of issues, one has to hope against hope that a sufficient number of Americans take full notice of the meaning and consequences of an American failure to raise its debt limit. Misunderstanding, or holding fanciful perceptions of what the debt ceiling might be and what it means not to raise it risks serious self-inflicted damage as a consequence of the failure to understand.
The Treasury says the nation will reach the debt limit sometime in May. Beyond that, Treasury can use emergency measures at its disposal to avoid immediate default. But once the U.S. is forced to tell investors it cannot pay them the interest payments they are owed, or that securities they have bought cannot be redeemed, the nation’s credit is essentially shot. While the economic power of America is such that the U.S. still could attract investors, in other words obtain loans from other nations, the effect on the American people still may be profound.
The most apparent threat is the effect on interest rates for Americans and for American business. In this case, at their worst, they would be interest rates so high they would effectively mean almost no one in the country could afford a loan, or to buy on credit. If you can imagine for a moment what it would mean to our economy if nothing could be bought or sold with credit, and businesses could not obtain loans or capital, you get an idea of the severity of the possible consequences for the American economy. Though nothing happens instantaneously at the moment the debt limit is reached, the possibilities down the road are nothing short of catastrophic.
So, you have to ask yourself what kind of people would go so far as to jeopardize the American economy and the financial standing of the country in order to extort political objectives they are unable to achieve otherwise through the democratic process? That would be the process of creating public support for those objectives, and creating and moving proposals through the legislative machinery, which if successfully passed are signed into law by the nation’s executive. The kind of people who would do that in fact is exactly the kind of extremists who now comprise a majority in the Republican Party, its members of congress under the spell of and in the grip of exotic ideology to a degree we have never witnessed in one of the major political parties in the history of the nation.
Congressional Republicans are putting a gun to the head of the American people and giving them the choice of radical changes to the structure of their government, changes they have not endorsed, or else suffer the consequences, which in this case may be their livelihoods and perhaps their futures. How radical are the changes Eric Cantor and the congressional leadership are demanding in order to vote to raise the debt limit? They are demanding several changes to the Constitution itself. They are demanding that a two-thirds vote in Congress would be required in order to increase taxes, any taxes, meaning a small minority could hold the nation’s business in even tighter gridlock than it can now, effectively a permanent crippling of the nation’s ability to obtain revenue. All in all it is an attempt, with one stroke, one declared fiat issued to the rest of the country that whether it likes it or not, our Twenty-first Century government will shrink to an Eighteenth Century one, the stuff of the right’s ideological fantasy.
Historically there have been debates as to whether the nation even should retain a debt ceiling, ours the only nation in the world to have any such thing, essentially an arbitrary limit attached to the nation’s amount of debt constantly in need of change through legislative action. But it should be noted that these very same Republicans voted FIVE TIMES during the Bush administration and Republican control of congress to raise the debt ceiling, a time not incidentally when Bush and his Republican congress were spending and tax-cutting the country into today’s deficit. In fact the four Republicans who currently comprise the Republican leadership: Eric Canton, John Boehner, Mitch McConnell and Jon Kyl previously made NINETEEN VOTES in favor of increasing the debt limit. So hypocrisy and ultra-partisanship are deep in their DNA.
This extortion plot to inflict the will of a small minority on an entire nation is born not of a radicalism grounded in an instinct for reform based in rational judgment of what could improve the lives of most Americans, it is a dogmatism grounded in absolutist ideology, in other words it has the fervor of religious conviction based in faith, and hence detached from human rationality and judgments based in material fact and any concrete reality.
Naturally individuals reach their points of anger at varying speeds; but it is impossible for me to conceive of a citizenry being anything less than infuriated at the reality of a radical component of the congress directly threatening them if they do not get their way. It is the political equivalent of strapping a bomb to your body and threatening to blow everyone up including yourself if your demands are not carried out. It strikes me that only an especially docile person reacts to such a blatant attempt to punk them without retaliating, in this case by inflicting mortal pain on the political party with the stupidly zealous temerity to make the attempt.
When a Republican minority literally attempts to force change by means of an immediate threat to the nation, to in fact alter the Constitution at the point of a gun, it is more a coup than it is an act of democracy. And I cannot see how Americans could do anything less than express rage.