Monday, October 7, 2013

How Republicans Failed to Understand the Democrats’ Debt-Ceiling Logic

“I would liken this a little bit to Gettysburg,” York’s source explained, “where a Confederate unit went looking for shoes and stumbled into Union cavalry, and all of a sudden found itself embroiled in battle on a battlefield it didn't intend to be on, and everybody just kept feeding troops into it.” An even more apt, and more recent, analogy might be Iraq, when Republican war planners expected a suspicious Muslim culture to greet their troops with sweets and flowers.

One of the causes of the economic and Constitutional crisis unleashed by House Republicans is their utter failure to grasp how Democrats would perceive their behavior. Conservative reporter Byron York perceptively, and alarmingly, describes a discussion with an influential Republican, who explains that the GOP stumbled into the shutdown war without a plan and repeatedly expected Democrats to bail them out by capitulating, only to be shocked when they refused. The GOP’s strategic failure has grown out of its intellectual insularity (or, to reprise a once-hot term, epistemic closure) leaving them so unaware of the principles motivating the other side that they couldn’t anticipate the Democrats’ obvious response.

If you reside within the conservative news bubble, you probably had no idea before this crisis what the Democratic position on the debt ceiling and the shutdown is. You still probably have no idea now. On Fox News Sunday, George Will purported to locate an “absurdity” in Obama’s refusal to negotiate the debt ceiling. Obama, he told listeners, was arguing, “Default would be catastrophic — world-wide depression, political chaos, locusts, plagues, et cetera. But attach to the debt-ceiling construction of the Keystone pipeline, it’s better to have locusts, plagues, crisis, and war.”

That would be a crazy thing to believe, wouldn’t it? But of course Obama’s administration has a ready and oft-proffered explanation. They see the debt-ceiling fight as being mainly about the long-term question of whether Congress will cement into place the practice of using the debt ceiling to extort concessions from the president. The price of buying off a debt-ceiling hike would surely be less than the risk of a default. But doing so would enshrine debt-ceiling extortion as a normal congressional practice. This both skews the Constitutional relationship between branches — allowing an unscrupulous Congress to demand unilateral concessions at gunpoint rather than having to compromise — and creates endless brinksmanship that would eventually lead to a default.  POST

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