Debt Limit, Cruzification, and Republican Future

The chaos in Washington is worth breaking my long blogging silence (though I am a self-described semi-frequent blogger).

Debt Limit Extension

In a piece on Jan 15, 2013 titled, ‘Go Home – No News – No U.S. Default on Debt‘ I wrote that on August 7, 2011 I wrote”

“Does anybody seriously think the U.S. will default on its debt obligations? The recent political mess in Washington may make you say, “Maybe.”  But think about it for a second. In spite of a bunch of politically motivated, not so intelligent, partisan, ideologically driven bozos who cannot even be personable to each other running things in Washington, when push came to shove, when they had the opportunity to default, they didn’t. The last month in the U.S. simply shows us that even in terrible economic times, when the political system is quite broken, the U.S. will not default on its debt. So if you are thinking, “Maybe,” think again. The U.S. will not default on its debt. The past month has confirmed that view.”

I’m sticking to that view. The U.S. will not default and many of the pundits who are hedging now about the possibility of a U.S. default will speak about how it was simply unimaginable that the U.S. will default. In fact I’ve bet a small sum of money that the debt limit will be raised before the U.S. can be called a defaulter. However unlike the game going on in Washington the bet I have taken with my colleague is a win-win bet, because we’ve agreed that the winner will buy the loser a round of drinks. And how bad can it be if the certainty outcome of a bet is that an economist and an anthropologist will discuss politics and sociology over a healthy brew of hops and nachos?

Cruzified?

However I’ve changed my mind on something else I said in my Jan 2013 piece. I said:

“Nothing has changed in Washington. We have more or less the same cast of characters and they are behaving in more or less the same childish manner that they did about 18 months ago.”

Actually I think things have changed in Washington over the last six months. It has been Cruzified! (What is it to be Cruzified? Similar to what Justice Potter Stewart said about pornography, I may never be able to intelligently define it for you, but you know it when you see it.) The rational lunacy (that which is crazy but which can be explained) of the legislators in the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party is clear for all to see. I guess some of them see themselves as carrying on the work which the 1964 Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater (the intellectual pater of Reaganism) started and think that they are doing the cause of Republicanism (which they see as misplaced and misunderstood Libertarianism) a favor with their petulance. I’d like to think that they think their present actions are simply a manifestation of Goldwaterism and that they can be explained as remembering one of the lessons that Goldwater delivered in his 1964 Presidential nomination acceptance speech, “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.”

Alas, such thinking on my part would be incredibly generous, and I am in no mood to be generous to adults throwing tantrums. I would also be wrong in attributing principled action to a group who seem to think that subversive legislative means justify policy seeking ends based on shoddy, if any, thinking. While they spout the bumper sticker phrases of Goldwaterism like ‘freedom’ and ‘constitutionalism’, it appears they do not understand the spirit and context of Goldwater’s libertarianism sculpted in the midst of the Cold War and the Communist scare. And if any of you think I am being immoderate in my critique of the Tea Party wing of the political Right, then with apologies to Goldwater I suggest, “Moderation in the pursuit of objectivity is no virtue!”

To be clear, my remarks above should not be read as my endorsing Goldwaterism, or being a Goldwaterite – though there is quite a lot in Goldwater that I find wonderful. I am simply suggesting that if the Tea Party thinks it is fighting the good fight started fifty odd years ago by Goldwater, they are far from right!

Republican Future

As the polls suggest the tactics and strategy of the Republican Party has been tarnished. If the Republicans hang around with the Tea Partiers they will be in trouble for a long time to come. An extreme, small and vocal minority cannot be constructive; but they can sure be obstructive. It is time for the Republican Party to abandon its extreme and thoughtless wing. That may mean that mainstream Republicans (defined as, in the mold of Goldwater) will be in the political wilderness for a short while. A little cost-benefit analysis suggests that dumping the Tea Partiers and being in the political wilderness for a short while beats the heck out of keeping the Tea Partiers and being in the political wilderness for a long while.

It is time the Republican Party came back to being a viable, constructive force in American politics. A good step in that direction is for Speaker Boehner to table/push forth some reasonable bill to end the present potentially costly stalemate of a closed Federal government even if the tantrum throwing Tea Parties will vote against it. At the very least he should allow a vote on a bill that will increase the debt ceiling. I predict he will. And it may cost him his Speakership, and save the Republican Party.