Fair being fair, I started out to criticize the Republicans for either getting snookered by the Democrats in the recent budget negotiations or being grossly incompetent. Before I proceed to only a bit more complicated explanation of their failure, let me finish that task.
It is pretty clear that the cuts that the Republicans trumpeted they secured in the negotiations over the 2011 budget were shams. The CBO suggests that the real savings are somewhere in the neighborhood of $400 million. Given that the publicized phony savings were a pathetic percentage of the overall budget to begin with, the facts of what they cut clearly demonstrate that the leadership and unfortunately a majority of their House majority are not serious leaders.
Of course, to add insult to injury, the President appeared with the Washington Monument as his prop and with a straight face pronounced this as an historic moment in the life of the country. Yes, there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between most of them.
So, I was going to stop with that rant but then a nice little post by Clive Crook caught my eye. He notes that the liberal side of the media was fairly pleased with the President’s speech. They liked the take no prisoners, full speed ahead tone. Crook suggests that maybe the times call for less reassurance of the Democratic base and a bit braver approach to mollify what really matters — the markets.
He goes on to quote a bit of blather from Tim Geithner about future Presidents and Congresses being on notice that business as usual is no longer the acceptable. You’re probably on the same wavelength as Crook, specifically Mr. Treasury Secretary isn’t the future now?
But the point, or more precisely, the insight that Crook came up with is what I want to get to. Let me excerpt this part of his post:
A politely sceptical Gillian Tett reports that “seasoned heads” in the White House look at it this way:
[T]here are now three crucial variables to watch: first, the “acknowledgement” issue (namely whether politicians recognise the fiscal problem); secondly, the “process” question (whether there is a constructive debate); and thirdly, the “plan” (namely whether there are credible proposals on the table). If two out of three of these items are on the checklist, the argument goes, investors will remain reassured. If not, trouble looms.
Two out of three will do? Would that be any two? You never need an actual plan, so long as you have acknowledgment and “constructive debate”? One trembles at the power of this insight. If true, it would vindicate Washington’s overarching view of the world. But I think your head would need to be very seasoned indeed, seasoned nearly to the point of mental illness, to believe it.
He is absolutely right. The view that prevails in Washington is that rhetoric and fake cuts will suffice. Their hubris is such that nothing short of a crisis will induce them to take this issue seriously. Their political survival instincts prevent any meaningful engagement with the problems. Indeed, mental illness is the proper diagnosis.