For the last several months it’s been showing up in Facebook comments and Boehner aides, but you almost never heard it from an actual congressman’s actual mouth until this weekend: class warfare. That’s what the Republican Party is calling Obama’s new jobs/deficit plan, with terrifying synchronization. “Class warfare may make for really good politics, but it makes for rotten economics,” Paul Ryan said on Fox News this weekend. “We don’t need a system that seeks to prey on people’s fear, envy and anxiety.” You can tell the GOP is scared about this, because Paul Ryan is talking. He’s the guy they get to tell the American people stuff we won’t want to hear, and they picked him the same way a carload of drunk frat boys decides who’s going to go knock on the door after they run over a dog. He’s handsome, at least by GOP standards. That’s good, because in this analogy, about 65% of America is the dog.
Remember on Friday when we declared American politics too selfishly broken to address the basic management of the United States? It turns out we were wrong, because the President and congressional leaders reached a deal on the national debt ceiling last night. The package still needs the support of both houses—including several notoriously intransigent members—but tentatively, maybe even presumably, the lights are going to stay on. “Sausage making is not pretty,” Diane Feinstein told the Times. “But the sausage we have, I think, is a very different sausage from when we started.” And in the end, isn’t that what we all what from our food? Different?
As the August 3rd deadline to either raise the federal debt ceiling or submit to our Chinese masters nigh approaches, Mitch McConnell has proposed a new solution: Congress could authorize President Obama to increase the borrowing limit himself. The Senate Minority Leader suggested that the President be given the authority to allow an additional $2.4 trillion in debt over the next year, provided he specifies an equal amount in spending cuts. It’s an odd move, given that negotiations have foundered for weeks on Republican demands that the President agree to cuts before the ceiling is raised. Unless you are a Republican, in which case negotiations have foundered on the President’s insistence that 25% of the increase be covered by taxes on corporations and the wealthy.
One of my particular favorite terrified theories about the Republican party is Starve the Beast, the fiscal/political strategy developed by small-government thinkers in the late 1970s. Depending on whom you ask, Starve the Beast is either a widely accepted conservative tactic or a paranoid fantasy of the left, although if the last couple of years have taught us anything, it’s that those two categories can overlap. The idea behind S the B is simple: cutting social welfare and other spending programs is not popular, but cutting taxes is. Ergo, the best way to reduce the size of the federal government is to steadily reduce taxes, until the political pressure created by mounting deficits forces cuts in spending. It sounds kind of evil and crazy when I put it that way, as if the GOP were deliberately bankrupting the federal government in order to get the budget cuts it couldn’t secure by democratic means. Maybe it would be better to let someone more respected explain it, like 1978 Alan Greenspan:
Let us remember that the basic purpose of any tax cut program in today’s environment is to reduce the momentum of expenditure growth by restraining the amount of revenue available and trust that there is a political limit to deficit spending.
Oh, wait. That sounds evil and crazy, too.
When I was a kid, I used to love reading Cal Thomas. For those of you who did not grow up with the Des Moines Register, your premiere newspaper for stories about pie and dogs that saved their owners from fires through barking, Thomas is a syndicated political columnist who combines the confidence of a small-town minister with the intellectual curiosity of a small-town minister. As near as I can tell, he hasn’t been right about anything in 30 years, and a surprising number of his columns begin with dictionary definitions, but I couldn’t stop reading him. At the risk of oversimplifying my fascination, getting angry at Cal Thomas made life feel important. Some perverse quadrant of my fourteen year-old brain knew that the baffled, sputtering indignation I experienced trying to follow a Cal Thomas argument expanded the sum total of my consciousness.* As a series of girlfriends would later remind me, the more you feel, the more you are alive—even if that feeling is bitter, frustrated anger. Today is Friday, and soon the weekend will enfold us in its boozy, maybe-trying-to-tell-us-something-and-maybe-just-being-affectionate arms. It will demand from us a new, more vibrant mode of living, and as usual five days of drudgerous toil will have deadened us until we feel somehow unequal to the task. As a palliative—by which I mean an irritant—Combat! blog offers a collection of links to things that enrage us, whether by their ignorance, their audacity, or their audacious ignorance. Sure, they’re horrifying, but we can’t look away. What separates us from the animals, after all, if not our love of lingering upon what separates us from the animals?