Wrestling Over the Debt Ceiling

As Republicans threaten to throw the U.S. economy into a new crisis by not raising the debt ceiling, Democrats have given ground time and again, erasing one line in the sand after another. But is this self-inflicted crisis real or just another political game, asks Danny Schechter. 

By Danny Schechter

Oh, the gnashing of the teeth, Oh, the flamboyant tactics. Oh, all the breaking news excitement on cable news as the debt ceiling countdown saga went down to the wire with an intense political confrontation of a kind we haven’t seen before

Or maybe we had in the TARP debate and so-called Obamacare vote, to cite but two moments of high political drama. Once again, all the key players knew the outcome but wanted to keep us guessing because it served everyone’s interests.

For Boehner and the boys on the GOP side, it was the great leadership test subplot. He would prove how tough he was, demonstrate his leadership mettle, get equal time with the President, and even look presidential.

The orange tan was gone. His moment in the sunlight had come as he roped the Tea Party kids into the politically correct corral. The congressman from Ohio was now a national force to be reckoned with,

Let’s not forget that he had become Wall Street’s butt boy. He had many of the big-money lobbyists on his side even as the financiers whined and complained about exaggerated threats to the world economy.

They made some noise but not too much. They well remember the wit and wisdom of ex-White House aide and now Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel about a crisis being a terrible opportunity to waste,

The Wall Street power-crats are high-stakes poker players and this was one game they knew they would win in a political arena dependent on their beneficence.

At the same time, the media compared the charade to the uncertainty of who would be chosen as this week’s Bachelorette reality TV show. The Tea Party even got Sen. Charles Schumer and comedian Jon Stewart going by reaching into home-video collections for a sound bite from Ben Affleck’s flick, The Town, a bank robbery shoot em’ up set in Charlestown, Massachusetts.

The only difference was that the pols on the Hill were interested in serving the banksters and had their eyes set on slightly bigger banks.

Some analysts put the Republican tactics down to “lunacy,” others to irrationality.

But this gambit was far more rational than most commentators realized. It reminded me of Richard Nixon’s “madman strategy” to make the Vietnamese think he was crazy enough to blow up their dykes or even drop the big one. It was a fear tactic in the game of psychological warfare.

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman understood what was going on, seconding my own analysis on the kamikaze tactics that the Right was using. He wrote what most of the media obfuscated about:

“The facts of the crisis over the debt ceiling aren’t complicated. Republicans have, in effect, taken America hostage, threatening to undermine the economy and disrupt the essential business of government unless they get policy concessions they would never have been able to enact through legislation.

“And Democrats – who would have been justified in rejecting this extortion altogether – have, in fact, gone a long way toward meeting those Republican demands.”

And, oh yes, the President had some big skin in the game. It gave him the posturing moment he needed to show how “balanced” he was, and how centrist he could become.

Obama talked left to move right, as Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting noted:

“Forget about ‘winning the future’ — Barack Obama wants to win the center. That’s what the Washington Post is telling readers (7/25/11): Obama ‘Big Deal’ on Debt a Gamble to Win the Center.

“Advisers think securing his plan would ensure general-election victory

“The Post’s Zachary A. Goldfarb (who can’t be held responsible for the headline) explained that Obama was making Republicans an offer they couldn’t refuse.

“He added: ‘Obama’s political advisers have long believed that securing such an agreement would provide an enormous boost to his 2012 campaign, according to people familiar with White House thinking. In particular, they want to preserve and improve the president’s standing among independents.’”

FAIR dipped into its own archive to remind us of an article from September 2009 which showed the President was under pressure even then to drop a focus on jobs to concentrate on the deficit.

In other words, this whole strategy is not new but years in the making, as Veronica Cassidy wrote for FAIR’s Extra! magazine:

“Parroting the Republican Party, corporate media have recently devoted much energy to deploring the federal deficit and chastising President Barack Obama for not focusing enough on balancing the budget.

“Very soon, media warn, either spending must be cut or taxes will need to be raised across the board, an argument that rests on the assumption that deficit reduction is, indeed, the top economic priority”

And, so, White House priorities shifted subtly to please the plutocrats and try to neutralize the Tea Party fanatics by co-opting their program the way Bill Clinton did in 1996.

It was called “triangulation” then. Obama’s own supporters call it “betrayal” now; Obama’s pro-Wall Street economic team made clear they wouldn’t give the men on The Street too much to worry about.

And so what happens now? The Republicans get their bill, unify their ranks even though it’s just more show and tell.

As Reuters explains, it’s all a prelude to coming back to the bargaining table at the 11th hour to make a deal that both sides can use to political advantage.

Read this and as you do, read between the lines;

“The House of Representatives approved a Republican deficit plan on Friday that has no chance of becoming law but could pave the way for a last-ditch bid for bipartisan compromise to avert a crippling national default.”

This was the scenario, more akin to a Kabuki play than a real political fight. It’s more like professional wrestling of the kind they perform at the Capital Arena not far from Capitol Hill.

The audience is hyped. The wrestlers pretend to hate each other, and arouse the crowd with acts of physical aggression. The match looks fierce, but, as everyone knows, it is fixed and scripted.

The musclemen throw each other around the ring, sometimes even gushing blood. The big bruisers denounce each other until it’s over to the count of 1-2-3; the bad guy always goes down.

The match ends, imagine that, just in time for a commercial break. Here it will end at the debt ceiling deadline. Each side will claim victory.

There is no ceiling on these political shenanigans. It’s just part of fast-paced game designed to keep the public on the sidelines and on the edge of uncertainly while the media keeps the politicians in the spotlight and excites the base in both parties,

In the end, the media will salute both sides for putting country above party. The only deficit here is one of political morality and honesty.

You tell me: am I too cynical, or is this the way what some call poli-tricks are played?

News Dissector Danny Schechter writes a blog at newsdissector.com. Comments to [email protected]

10 comments for “Wrestling Over the Debt Ceiling

  1. August 3, 2011 at 13:37

    If he wrote it, chmoore.

    As he’s obviously the Manchurian Candidate of our time, all his claimed history is doubtful in my eyes.

    And I don’t mean his birth in Kenya. That’s the least of our problems.

    Thanks for your thoughts, Danny.

    You’ve made it clear that the media brouhaha was just that the whole time. Bought-and-paid-for Murdochian nonsense (with the Murdoch British sideshow to take our attention off of them stateside), they’ve done us in with the screaming fire in-a-crowded-deficit scheme to obfuscate what’s really happening in an economy with approximately 30 million people without decent-paying jobs (and coming apart already at the seams).

    I’d say we’re ready for the “putsch” now as the next 9/11 moment sends us down the slippery slope of economic failure for decades to come.

    Again, thanks so much for speaking out, Danny.


  2. chmoore
    August 2, 2011 at 12:02

    I think most of what we really needed to know about Obama comes from his own book “Dreams from My Father”. His view of himself is as though he’s the one between two worlds, whose job it is to split the difference, regardless of whether that difference ends up in the center or somewhere else.

    It seems he wrote a whole book about what to expect, before he even considered running for president.

  3. August 1, 2011 at 07:24

    Now that the plutocrats in Washington (and their Tea Party allies) have taken control of the U.S. government and are in the process of putting a major long-term hurt on the U.S. economy as a consequence of the debt ceiling shenanigans, making it crystal clear that the federal government no time soon will be rendering any help to a flagging economy that has stranded millions and millions of would-be workers, let us now consider a private-sector solution to the high unemployment problem. Here’s my idea: I have a plan to restore the U.S. economy to full employment. It’s a complex private-sector mechanism that involves giving another dose of financial nitroglycerin to Wall Street hoping that this time they won’t nuke the economy. In exchange, we get lots and lots of jobs. The plan provides a major (profit-generating) incentive to Wall Street to transfer massive amounts of investment funding to Main Street through the creation of a massive number of new entrepreneurial ventures. My plan effectively “piggy-backs” onto existing financial industry architecture to securitize the entrepreneurial investment process, thus enabling Wall Street to make boatloads of cash in the secondary market. The net result of the plan is the massive creation of new jobs to jump-start the U.S. economy back to full employment. A Faustian bargain? Perhaps, but what’s the alternative? Do we let huge numbers of people depend on the goodness of friends, family, or ever-shrinking public assistance for their subsistence needs???

    Read the plan here: http://jpbulko.newsvine.com

    Joseph Patrick Bulko, MBA

  4. Alec Scott
    August 1, 2011 at 01:11

    Sometimes it really sucks to be right – but many of us warned: the ‘upper tier’ candidates were anointed far too early in the game. Most voters had no idea who the ‘lower tier’ candidates were – except Kucinich, and he was consistently locked out, both literally and figuratively.

    It was all a con: the great ‘historic election’ – and the suckers fell for it, choosing one or the other of the two worst candidates and fighting over them. Well played, DLC.

  5. El Tonno
    July 31, 2011 at 16:49

    Always looking at everything to the lens of partisan politicking, I see. How tired.

    How about having a discussion about the debt “ceiling” (or, the debt elevator)? Whatever happens, default there will be. Sooner or later.

    “a crippling national default”

    Ridiculous. Is the world ending again? Would people particularly care if there was a “national default”?

    I hear this will be a bad deal for “the little man”. How so? Apparently it will be nothing because “we owe it to ourselves”. What the hell? Apparently the “AAA” credit rating of the US (a preposterous delusion) will be downgraded, causing an immediate second coming. I beg pardon?

    Truth is – there were defaults in the history of the US. And there will be defaults in the history of the US.

    Covering over the actual economic problems rendered worse by the New-Deal style Keynesian retardation that the US is currently suffering by smalltime politics is not helping.

    • e-konomyst
      July 31, 2011 at 20:28

      Last I checked, we had nearly fifty years of stable, steady economic growth under the New Deal / Keynesian policies. The U.S. recovered from the Great Depression, put everyone back to work, invested in education and infrastructure, paid off a WW2 debt that was over 120% of GDP, and became the world’s leading manufacturer and creditor. Oh yeah – those horrible policies, along with the hard work of the American people, created the wealthiest and most powerful middle class in world history.

      Then Reagan came in with his “voodoo economics” (according to George H.W. Bush), and ran up 2.8x more debt on the national credit card than all previous U.S. Presidents, all the way back to George Washingon. Taxes on corporations and the wealthy went down, jobs went overseas (more under Clinton & Bush II), regulations (especially Glass-Steagall) evaporated (thanks to Phil Gramm & Clinton), lobbyists took over Washington, D.C., and government regulators came from the companies and industries they were supposed to regulate. And just like the Roaring 20’s, we had a boom, followed by the inevitable bust. Hate to tell you, but Reagan proved Keynes correct — for a while.

      Why do we have so many people in government who hate government?

      The ones who wanted to make government small enough to “drown in the bathtub” are just about to get their wish. Either way — from an outright default, or a last-minute deal with Draconian cuts — the economy will tank for most Americans, and the GOP will try to blame it on Obama for the 2012 elections. And Obama, either way, will have given the appearance of fighting while facilitating the selling out of American workers and individuals. If Obama were a boxer, it would be obvious to anyone watching that he’s throwing the fight.

      The New Deal shifted the balance of economic and political power from corporations, investors and the plutocrats toward workers and individuals. And since Reagan, every President and most politicians have been focused on taking that power back for the corporations and plutocrats who pay them.

      • Big Em
        July 31, 2011 at 22:48

        Exactly right, ‘e-konomyst’ ! All I would add is that I think that too many people got scared during the mid/late 70s by the ‘stagflation’ (primarily caused by the first couple of real ‘oil-shocks’) and killed the goose that laid the golden egg, economically speaking, returning to the pre-1930s policies (mildly with Carter, and then full-throttle with Reagan the front-man).

    July 31, 2011 at 16:16



    Obama supporters whine and wring their hands in impotent fury, pointedly threatening a loss of enthusiasm for his 2012 re-election campaign. But their good cop president and his party leaders are all about preemptive compromise, meeting the bad cop Republicans half, three quarters or nine-tenths of the way to a goal that moves further rightward every hour. The president’s unwillingness to stand with the Democratic party’s electoral base, the nation’s poor and working people, is for many Obama supporters utterly inexplicable.

    But what if President Barack Obama never intended to fight for jobs or justice? What if he believes the nonsense about Wall Street being job creators? instead of economic vampires? What if Cornel West finally got it right? What if Black Agenda Report has been right all along? What if Barack Obama is a Reagan Democrat in every meaningful way, right down to a fanatical belief in trickle down economics? What if the president counts on corporate media and his army of careerists and sycophants to shut down and cover up cracks in the Obama consensus through which reality might leak? What if Obama is not weak, or timid, or vacillating or waiting for us to make him do it?? What if what we’ve seen is all there is, all there ever was?

    The truth is that Barack Obama’s actions are entirely rational, understandable and even predictable if you suppose him to have been a vicious, vacuous and cynical right wing operative from the very beginning.


    So if you’re an Obama supporter, and you’re disappointed that your president won’t fight for you — if you’re an Obama supporter and you wonder why the president won’t stand up for Medicaid, Medicare and social security — here’s the answer. The president really, really is smarter than you. He knows what side he’s on and you don’t. He knows that the two-party system is a veal pen, where as long as he can play good cop to the Republicans’ ever worsening bad cop, the game is fixed, and not in your favor.

    • P Parsons
      July 31, 2011 at 17:00

      RIGHT ON!!!!!!

  7. Robert Tinker
    July 31, 2011 at 16:08

    You have that right!!!

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