Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A New Notch in the Tea Party's Belt?

In the wake of the new deal arrangement between the White House and Congress after the delaying of the debt-ceiling crisis (tough to say that any conflict here was actually resolved), it's not entirely easy to identify big winners and losers.  Perhaps Obama scored a win in at least not having to deal with the reality of a debt default, but no account I've seen yet casts him in the winner's role.  In fact, the dominant view seems to be that he caved (Andrew Leonard at Salon calls it a "surrender") to the pressure of Tea Party extremists hell-bent on taking down the entire federal government if they didn't get their way.  Joe Nocera of the NY Times puts it plainly:
the Tea Party Republicans have waged jihad on the American people. Their intransigent demands for deep spending cuts, coupled with their almost gleeful willingness to destroy one of America’s most invaluable assets, its full faith and credit, were incredibly irresponsible. But they didn’t care. Their goal, they believed, was worth blowing up the country for, if that’s what it took.
The new arrangement to avert the debt crisis commits the federal government to cutting spending by about $2.5 over the next 10 years.  One would think the Tea Partiers would be happy about this; but instead, they went to Fox News to complain that it wasn't $4 trillion.  At any rate, such massive cuts - when not balanced with some kind of tax increases (which were indeed NOT included in the deal) - are going to inflict huge pain on the American people, especially the poor and the middle class, as well as those of us approaching retirement who may be depending on those so-called "entitlements" for which so many of us have been paying Social Security taxes for decades.  And the deal does nothing to address what is by far the most important problem: growing the economy.  Again, Nocera:

America’s real crisis is not a debt crisis. It’s an unemployment crisis. Yet this agreement not only doesn’t address unemployment, it’s guaranteed to make it worse. (Incredibly, the Democrats even abandoned their demand for extended unemployment benefits as part of the deal.) As Mohamed El-Erian, the chief executive of the bond investment firm Pimco, told me, fiscal policy includes both a numerator and a denominator. “The numerator is debt,” he said. “But the denominator is growth.” He added, “What we have done is accelerate forward, in a self-inflicted manner, the numerator. And, in the process, we have undermined the denominator.” Economic growth could have gone a long way toward shrinking the deficit, while helping put people to work. The spending cuts will shrink growth and raise the likelihood of pushing the country back into recession.

Inflicting more pain on their countrymen doesn’t much bother the Tea Party Republicans, as they’ve repeatedly proved. What is astonishing is that both the president and House speaker are claiming that the deal will help the economy. Do they really expect us to buy that? We’ve all heard what happened in 1937 when Franklin Roosevelt, believing the Depression was over, tried to rein in federal spending. Cutting spending spiraled the country right back into the Great Depression, where it stayed until the arrival of the stimulus package known as World War II. That’s the path we’re now on. Our enemies could not have designed a better plan to weaken the American economy than this debt-ceiling deal.

And as Leonard noted, there are no tax increases in this deal; all cuts.
Obama has long maintained that revenue increases that would partially balance out any cuts to entitlement programs must be part of any deal. But there are no revenue increases in this deal. And it is surely a pipe dream to imagine that Democrats will be able to include any new revenue increases in further negotiations. After what we've seen so far, first in the government shutdown drama and now in the debt ceiling fight -- when Republicans hold firm, Democrats give in. The pattern has been set.

The only possible good I see coming from this - and from the Tea Party - is the result that over the next 10 years, military spending will likely be cut, and deeply - although, as the NY Times notes, the cuts to "security spending" will amount to only $5 billion in 2012, and it's quite possible that the Pentagon might not absorb any of that (something that one commentator referred to as "political kabuki')  - all of which may help Obama avert accusations, in an election year, of not providing enough support to "the troops." 

But  some in the Tea Party recognize that, over the longer haul, the US can no longer afford its huge military spending, including - and especially - its policy of "force projection" across the entire planet.  People like Andrew Bacevich have been reminding us all of the need to rein in America's hyper-drive for global dominance, for years.  But with this new fiscal mandate of cutting spending, some of the neocon blowhards of the Bush administration are again wailing like new Cassandras.  As Jim Lobe at IPS notes, William Kristol and John Bolton are shocked and despondent that the US perforce can no longer be the biggest and toughest guy on the block.  Kristol goes so far as to call the deal "the best day that China ever had"; Bolton,

whose analysis bounced all around the right-wing blogosphere Monday – was no less hyperbolic, calling the possible military implications of the deal no less than "catastrophic". "Make no mistake, this deal, by risking massive defense cutbacks, potentially points a dagger at the heart of our national security," Bolton, who now sits at the American Enterprise Institute, warned.

And speaking of the Boltons and Kristols, let me close with a note (and recommendation) about other worthies of their era, men who (like them) the US ought to have shunned and (figuratively, at least) exiled years ago for their abject failure to serve their country as law-abiding, morally upright servants.  I speak of Alberto Gonzales and John Yoo, two of the Bush-era DoJ officers who created so much running room for Bush, Cheney et al. to do multiples ends-around to skirt international law and, in consequence, brought the US's moral standing to a nadir from which, honestly, it has hardly begun to rise under Obama. See Dalia Lithwick's  (at Slate) piece about her participation at the Aspen Security Forum, where she moderated a discussion among several panelists on the issues of torture and detention as practiced by the US.   Yoo insisted on referring to "aggressive interrogation," not torture - and lamely insisted that since no one in the US is really upset about our drone attacks, then what's the big deal about water-boarding or other stuff he made legally OK?  (That's a very sad point there.) 

And then, reflect on how many Americans have already forgotten - if they ever indeed knew - who Gonzales and Yoo are, and what they were part of: not only torture, rejection of international law, and skirting legal and constitutional principles in order to empower a boy emperor, but also the brutal planetary "force projection" for which people like Kristol and Bolton bloviated so successfully on the boy emperor's behalf.

I detest the Tea Party - but to the extent that they may help the US come to its senses about its self-assigned prerogative to run the Earth, I have to be thankful for them as well.

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