This quick note of a post is a bit unusual because of how it came to be:
I had a very brief, pleasant, 140-character chat on Twitter with Dave Winer. This piece continues that conversation which started when Winer tweeted to the world (I've left out a link to the article Dave was talking about):
Dave Winer ☮ Ryan: GOP might not hold the world hostage in an epic hissy fit. [Ryan had spoken to the press suggesting the House Republicans would vote for an unconditional short-term raise of the debt ceiling.]
thomas_lord @davewiner Nah. Ryan is saying they want to tie debt ceiling to sequestration debts ("short term raise"). It's a raise not a fold.
Dave Winer ☮ @thomas_lord -- he's chickenshit, he likes living in a world with health care, garbage men, and doesn't want to revert to the stone age.
thomas_lord@davewiner hehe (re "chickenshit"). Fair enough. 140 too small -- I should write a blog post about the topic.
Dave Winer ☮ @thomas_lord -- do write a blog post! please.
So, here Dave. Hope you like it.
The GOP has won. They are, hands down, the stronger party in the federal government. The electoral landscape is such that this appears unlikely to change anytime soon. If the GOP's strengths in state government hold fast, they'll even stand a good chance of taking the presidency in 2016 (if they should happen to want it).
The headlines today are amusing and seem to tell a very different story.
- "ANALYST: It Looks Like This Is 'Unilateral Disarmament' By The GOP On The Debt Ceiling" -- Business Insider
- "House Republicans Cave on Debt Ceiling Brinkmanship" -- Time
How exciting! Only ... there has been no disarmament, quite the opposite. There has been no cave. The GOP is just collecting the pot. They had the stronger hand all along. They're laying down their cards one by one. Read 'em and weep. This is what their victory looks like.
"Just because the bear is eating you slowly doesn't mean you aren't dead."
That's an old proverb I just made up.
Didn't Obama demand, just the other day, either a clean long-term raise or else presidential authority to raise the limit by executive order? Didn't he say that there would be no negotiations?
Now with this three month extension proposed, what happens?
- The three month offer gives a middle finger to Obama who can only talk tough because he has no apparent leverage.
- The GOP retains its capability to force a government shut-down. With a three month delay, they'll have exercised their option to control the timing of such a shut-down, should they want to invoke it.
- The GOP will have more tightly tied sequestration negotiations to the threat of a government shut-down.
- Some pundits will help give the GOP cover here by declaring this three month extension a sudden "return to sanity" rather than calling it what it was -- the playing out of the GOP's stronger position.
Much is made of how this kind of GOP hardball effects polling for them but those articles talk about inconsequential, national approval ratings (and such). What really matters for the GOP is whether it has the House by the throat with a secure majority (it does), whether it remains strong enough in state governments to push for electoral college reforms to have a go at the WH (the GOP remains sufficiently strong at the state level), and whether the Obama administration has any actual leverage against any of this (it doesn't -- at least none that is yet visible).
Isn't this all because Obama is weak-willed and/or evil?
If anything, a Democrat Executive Branch and Senate provide the GOP with excellent cover. It makes the Democrats look like they have a lot of policy-making power when, in fact, they do not.
As long as the pundits refuse to acknowledge that the GOP is actually in the dominant position, the popular narrative is that Obama and Democrats are somehow incompetent or corrupt, either weak in their negotiating skills or secretly hoping to dismantal progressive policies.
This is the kind of story the main stream press and the "left" press seems to prefer but it fully misses the point that the GOP has played the superior chess game. Solid GOP control of the House means that the Democrats have very little federal legislative power at the moment and that's not likely to change soon. The GOP is very secure in many states and congressional districts.
Won't The moderate traditional moderate republicans come to the rescue?
Also widely (and falsely) reported is that there must be some kind of huge schism between the traditional fiscal conservative Republicans and the new "batshit crazy" tea party.
Consistently missing in these popular, wishful-thinking narratives is any serious account of how these two factions seriously differ over most public policy. Their differences are over legislative strategies and electoral strategies. They are arguing over how best to spend the party's superior power. They agree on dismantling entitlements except for people who are already old. They agree on dismantling many forms of regulation. The GOP may have small numbers of dissenters on some social issues like gay rights but nobody writing anywhere has identified any serious scism in the party.
Indeed, the carefully disciplined way the GOP is collectively talking about the debt ceiling ought to be a clue: they remain a very unified force.
What the GOP wants
The GOP fat cats and the GOP base agree on a few things. They would like to see far weaker protections for labor and the environment. They would like to see more cops and more "toughness on crime". If the public school system went away tomorrow, they wouldn't miss it much especially if the freed up money could go to privately owned charter schools.
For the fat-cats, this will lower the cost of US labor as well as regulatory costs. There will be fewer rules and workers will be more desparate. In a global market, those economically and morally devastating conditions for workers will raise the long term value of US assets held by the fat cats. At least that is their thinking.
For the low-information base, GOP reforms will inject some kind of tough-love morality into the economy. These are folks who believe, one way or another, that virtue is achieved through deprivation and punishment. Roughly speaking, their superstitious thinking is that dysfunctions in public policy must be because people aren't humble and beat down enough.