The Debt Ceiling Crisis: America At Its Worst

After months of murmurs and mounting fears and misleading rants, we stand on a historically-devastating precipice.  One the likes of which the United States has never seen.  And, even if – hope against hope, reason against reason – a debt ceiling compromise IS reached before August 2nd, this process has done irrevocable harm to the United States, its standing in the world, and the “inevitably” of sovereign debt in the world’s markets.  We have gone from the “best bet” in the financial, political, and geo-political world to, well, laughing stock and lesson-learned in political extremism.

And, frankly, America, we deserve what we get.

First, when this debt ceiling debate “began” (at least a few months ago), we Americans, a particularly politically uninvolved lot (and why shouldn’t we be?  Ours has been a relatively-safe” – particularly for the white, middle-class – society for nearly a century), assumed it was “politics as usual.”  “Those jokers in Washington!” was the general refrain.  Ultimately, most thought, they’ll figure it out.  I’m going to go hang out at the cabin now (a biased reference, given my Wisconsin-farm-girl-roots), thank-you-very-much.

Next, we turned to Wall Street and the “markets.”  In the past few weeks, we’ve heard over and over and over, “Hey, the markets aren’t panicking.  Why should we?”  All-together now: UGH. Why the general public continues to think finance people understand policy (the process and implications) baffles the mind (and as a dual MBA/Masters in Public Policy graduate of the University of Chicago, I know of which I speak.  WALL STREET DOES NOT UNDERSTAND POLICY (and, yes, I’d argue mostly the reverse, as well)).  The fact that the markets didn’t “react” as this crisis loomed proved nothing, other than the folly implied in our thinking the very people who couldn’t read their OWN businesses and markets the last decade had something viable and informative to say about Congressional policies.  A personal plea: please, for the love of God, STOP LOOKING TO WALL STREET TO UNDERSTAND WHAT’S GOING ON IN WASHINGTON.

Finally, in the past few days and weeks, America’s started paying attention.  Like the end of a semi-popular reality show, America’s debt ceiling crisis has started to mildly interest the “average American” (and absolutely fascinate every rich, white guy worried he may, as a result of our deficit, be forced to become a paying-member of society).  So, America’s tuned in just in time to catch right-wing extremists push UNTENABLE plans (cutting spending by 40% in a recession, a decades-long depression makes), mis-quote historical paragons of political thought (my favourite?  The Tea Party co-opting Churchill as a Trans-Atlantic hero to “prove” the party’s economic theory.  Churchill.  Really? The man whose first budget as Chancellor of the Exchequer drove the UK into a crippling financial and industrial depression is sound intellectual proof of fiscal responsibility?), and made such laughably simple analogies to “family checkbooks,” they more revealed the Tea Party’s economic ignorance than proved any intellectual points (to those of us paying attention the entire time).

So…where does this all leave America, this weekend before all hell may break loose?

Well, obviously, we’re f#cked.  Through a combination of policy, economic, and geo-political optimism and ignorance, our country has ignored its way into a lower credit rating (can’t wait to hear middle-class conservatives b1tch about how everything’s “so much more expensive” – including their parents’ medical care and housing), lesser political stature, and an overall economic sink-hole from which we may not emerge for years – if not decades.  Even if a last-minute plan passes (with Americans FINALLY watching), irrevocable damage has been done to this country (mostly due to a combination of American indifference and the Tea Party’s extremist and fascist approach to this traditionally non-contentious process).

I, like most people I’m sure, desperately hope we come to terms on this before August 2nd (without, of course, hurting the poorest of the poor – a main, ill-informed, and lazy tenet of the Tea Party philosophy).  If that’s the case, what are the best lessons to be learned in all this?

We must start paying attention.  And stop treating the Tea Party like any kind of legitimate group and more like the ill-informed, angry, and historically-illiterate (meaning illiterate of history, not unable to read) group it is. And, finally, we start taking the separation of business-and-government seriously.  And become better-informed and more active on all fronts.

For the love and good of our great country.

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