Political Animal


June 23, 2011 4:30 PM A head-shaking perspective

By Steve Benen

After seeing this quote from the Senate Republican leadership, Michael Cohen concludes, “We’re governed by idiots.” It hardly seems like an unreasonable assessment.

“President Obama needs to decide between his goal of higher taxes, or a bipartisan plan to address our deficit,” Mr. McConnell and Mr. Kyl said in a joint statement. “He can’t have both. But we need to hear from him.”

It’s hard to even know where to start with such nonsense, though I would love to hear what McConnell and Kyl consider a “bipartisan” plan. If the answer is, “a plan that gives Republicans everything they want and ignores Democratic appeals,” I’d encourage them to reference a dictionary.

But to me, that wasn’t even the worst McConnell quote from the afternoon. This was.

“Where in the world has the president been for the last month?” Mr. McConnell said. “What does he propose? What is he willing to do to reduce the debt and to avoid this crisis that is building on his watch? He’s the one in charge.”

Let’s take these one at a time.

“Where in the world has the president been for the last month?” Well, he’s been leading the executive branch at a time of multiple crises. He doesn’t have time to hold Congress’ hand through the Republican hostage strategy, but he designated the vice president to give it a try. It stands to reason Vice President Biden is authorized to represent President Obama’s interests in these talks, so it’s not as if the White House has taken a hands-off approach. Just the opposite is true — the bipartisan talks was the White House’s idea.

“What does he propose?” Well, President Obama presented a $4 trillion debt-reduction plan in April. It constitutes what “he proposes,” since it’s what he proposed. If memory serves, Republicans are familiar with the plan, since they whined incessantly for days about Obama hurting their feelings after he presented it.

“What is he willing to do to reduce the debt and to avoid this crisis that is building on his watch?” Well, we know what he’s willing to do (see the $4 trillion debt-reduction plan mentioned above), but the notion that there’s a debt “crisis” that’s “building on his watch” is completely insane.

The driving factors of the debt are Republican policies, which incidentally, Mitch McConnell is partially responsible for. That’s not opinion; it’s quantifiable fact. And the only debt “crisis” we have to worry about is the one that would occur if McConnell and congressional Republicans deliberately refuse to raise the debt ceiling and crash the economy on purpose.

I don’t know Mitch McConnell, and I can’t say with confidence whether he’s dumb or simply pretending to be dumb. But if the U.S. debt had reached a “crisis” level, we’d see the government crowding out private investment and high interest rates. In reality, we see the exact opposite — it’s never been easier for the United States to borrow lots of money, give the American economy a boost, create lots of jobs, etc.

Put it this way: the yield on 10-year Treasuries is below 3%. How many times has it been this low over last half-century? Zero.

But since we’re “governed by idiots,” we’re stuck in a conversation about solving a problem that doesn’t exist, while ignoring a problem that does exist. It’s more than a little frustrating.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • Chris on June 23, 2011 4:46 PM:

    Refusing to raise the debt ceiling is the next logical step to Republican's "starve the beast" strategy.

    If they can't complete their plutocracy when deficits are at $1 trillion-plus, then they'll throw the country into another recession to create even higher deficits. If that doesn't starve the beast, well then, onto the next step.

  • CDW on June 23, 2011 4:52 PM:

    You know what's going to happen, don't you? In the end, the republicans will blame the democrats for any and all of the bad stuff, including the debt ceiling default, and the MSM will take their word for it. And who's to contradict them? The dems have been as quiet as a clam, saying nothing about their proposals, or indeed if they even have any proposals. Who knows? maybe Biden and his neolibs are just saying "ask and you shall receive" to the cons.

  • T2 on June 23, 2011 4:52 PM:

    As long as the GOP leaders can get away with statements like these, they'll keep making them up, and I guarantee they'll be played repeatedly on tonite's news shows.
    There is one person who can call them on it, that's the President. Except for a few jabs, he hasn't been willing to do so......to do so in a manner that will compel the Media to report it. Obama may have a plan that we aren't privy to, the GOP isn't privy to....but I'd assume he has one and if he does, he needs to let it out. If the plan is to "try and work towards compromise" , he's doomed to failure.

  • Mimikatz on June 23, 2011 4:53 PM:

    McConnell is not dumb, unlike some other GOP Senators. He is, however, venal, unscrupulous and utterly committed to maintaining his own power. He had no regard for the general,welfare or the country as a whole. And he appears to hate Pres Obama, or at least really wants to see him gone. he says. However, I think his strategy is really intended to maximize his own chances of becoming majority leader, even if Obama wins again.

    They think that if we do default, it will so cripple and shrink the federal gov't that they will score an immense ideological victory and further clear out pesky impediments to his patrons making ever more billions of profits. Beyond that, he plans to be dead before the global warming chickens come hope to roost. Let Cantor, Ryan and the other young's deal with that particular problem. OL' Mitch will live high on the hog for 20 or so years and en be gone before things get really bad.

  • phillygirl on June 23, 2011 4:58 PM:

    As to President Obama's whereabouts, I kind of agree with Mitch McConnell. I know he's a busy guy, but this is a pretty ginormous problem. He could have taken a few moments to say something, y'know, out loud. To us.

  • SecularAnimist on June 23, 2011 5:02 PM:

    With all due respect, Steve Benen and Michael Cohen are wrong.

    The Republicans in Congress are not "idiots".

    They are bought-and-paid-for corporate stooges.

    And they know exactly what they are doing: they are DELIBERATELY LYING.

  • bubba on June 23, 2011 5:18 PM:

    But since Obama, even to this day, refuses to respond to such accusations personally and directly, with the simple facts, we're stuck in a one-sided conversation driven by this sort of drivel, nonsense and irresponsibility. Until and unless the lead Dem, Obama, starts directly pushing back and starts taking the initiative to put the republicants on the defensive, we are stuck with this inane conversation.

    Oh, and why are no Dems coming out to blast Cantor as quitting on America and pointing out that quitting on America is the only thing republicants brought to Congress?

  • Sam Simple on June 23, 2011 5:20 PM:

    I like it when you get pissed, Steve. More progressives need to get angry and get right in the faces of vermin like Bitch McConnell and tell them they are filthy, corrupt liars and offer to rearrange their features. Its the only way these scum are going to get the message!

  • Chris on June 23, 2011 5:21 PM:

    I just want to second what others above have said. Whenever I turn on the tube or the radio, I only see and hear Republicans or right-wing Democrats (e.g, Kent Conrad).

    Why are progressive Democrats invisible? Why are they not on television? Why aren't they FORCEFULLY calling out the media and the right on their lies? Why are they not raising holy hell about their inability to get on television and let their voices be heard? I'm thoroughly mystified by their silence.

  • jjcomet on June 23, 2011 5:26 PM:

    phillygirl, Obama has not been absent on this issue. He doesn't - or shouldn't - have to hold a press conference or a prime-time speech every week to reassure us he's working on the problem. As Benen points out, the administration made a serious proposal months ago but the GOP virtually ignored it and has been playing political games ever since. If the corporate media were really interested in informing the public, they'd cover the issue and maybe you'd be a bit more up to speed on what Obama HAS done.

  • TCinLA on June 23, 2011 5:33 PM:

    I wonder how many times McConnell was sued for leaving a scalpel inside a patient?

    The fact he's a surgeon explains everything: dumb enough to play the game and get through medical school, moron enough to think that makes him a genius, and certain that because he's a surgeon, that he's a god.

    A perfect example why, when you inquire about a new doctor, your first question should be, "Is he a Republican?" If the answer is yes, hang up and keep looking.

  • st john on June 23, 2011 5:54 PM:

    This is a judgment and I acknowledge it: Republicans and their financial supporters are sociopaths. There is no other explanation for their behavior. The consequences of their holding the rest of us hostage are dire and destructive to a huge population of Americans and others. On the other hand, our unwillingness to declare this as fact is our willingness to play the victim. So, are we victims or are we responsible adults who will take a stand in the face of unconscious and unconscionable behavior by our so-called leaders? Even if Obama said this straight out, what can he do to influence a change? As to the MSM, I have yet to read a response to the "progressive media," that would be you, Steve Benen, directly demanding the editors and publishers response to these charges. We all make charges here about the MSM, but no one actually speaks to them and reports on what they get in response. Maybe I am missing it. Jon Stewart can call Chris Wallace "insane," but where are the rest of "you?"

  • SecularAnimist on June 23, 2011 6:41 PM:

    Commenter Chris wondered: "Why are progressive Democrats invisible? Why are they not on television?"

    Because the half-dozen giant corporations that own virtually all of the mass media in the USA don't want the American people to hear what progressive Democrats have to say.

  • kevo on June 23, 2011 7:28 PM:

    The ranks of unreasonable people count two regarding Congressional Republican leadership!

    From my vantage McConnell and Boehner are dangerous to a free and liberty-minded populous as they would rather dangle our financial ass in the wind over a steep precipice while leaning into a weak gale, than offer us plausible political leadership promoting certainty over uncertainty in our financial markets!

    Shit, in terms of governing, the Republicans aren't even faking as if they wish to govern reasonably, let alone responsibly!

    McConnell and Boehner gotta go! -Kevo

  • bdop4 on June 23, 2011 7:35 PM:

    The guy who needs to come out strong against this bullshit is not Barack Obama.

    It's Joe Biden.

    For all his foibles, real or imagined, people listen to Joe Biden, and he has a way of putting things in a blue collar perspective that resonates with a lot of voters.

    Plus he doesn't pull punches when he's pissed, and if he's not pissed now, I suggest someone take his pulse.

  • lynngo on June 23, 2011 9:12 PM:

    STEVE! Why do persist in suggesting McConnell is dumb? He's not dumb, he's smart and he knows when he says this stuff the MSM will pick it up and repeat it until every dope in the USA believes it to be true. The question is why you (Steve) don't start calling on your fav President Obama to come out loud and clear with the truth. Why doesn't he ever, ever, ever step up and use the bully pulpit which only he has? Frankly I found his announcement about the bringing home of 10,000 troops last night really boring. What happened to his mojo?

  • toowearyforoutrage on June 23, 2011 9:58 PM:

    And the only debt “crisis” we have to worry about is the one that would occur if McConnell and congressional Republicans deliberately refuse to raise the debt ceiling and crash the economy on purpose.

    I know what we're trying to say here but I'd really prefer we'd emphasize that the debt trend is unacceptable in the long term but:

    A) Republicans didn't care at all when George Bush blew past the 10 trillion mark without so much as a whimper.

    B) Keynesian economics requires that we NOT implement the very austerity measures the GOP wants. It makes me think they realize Keynes is right but bad economies make billionaires' money go much farther.

    Let us emphasize there is no short-term debt crisis. Our president has acknowledged that and we need to reinforce it. Not out of loyalty, but because it's correct.

  • Goldilocks on June 24, 2011 4:19 AM:

    @SecularAnimist, between your two posts you have told the whole story. Thank you.

    Even so, I perceive trouble on the Republican phalanx. They're coming apart at the seams. McConnell is losing his cool. He's blowing gaffs. They're at sixes and sevens. They know their chips are up on this one.

    Seriously, on this occasion the Democrats may be standing strong. They can and they should. It will be exemplary if they do. Nothing will be more joyous to behold than watching the Repugs fold.

  • Goldilocks on June 24, 2011 4:35 AM:

    So much sour grapes about Obama! It gets my goat. Confrontation is not the way to undermine these Republican types. Confrontation would merely energize and validate them - even if the media gave fair coverage, which they wouldn't.

    No, Obama is much more subtle and hence stronger than that. He's playing a really cool game behind the scenes. And it's working - look how the Republicans are starting to fall apart on this.

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  • bob h on June 24, 2011 7:06 AM:

    Are they idiots or are they indulging in Orwellian newspeak nonsense? Have they stripped language of all meaning?

  • bdop4 on June 24, 2011 8:42 AM:

    The only way Obama and the Dems come out ahead on these "negotiations" is if (1) tax increases far outweigh spending cuts, (2) all the spending cuts are in defense/corporate welfare or provider-related Medicare expenses, OR, (3) the repubs totally renege on any "deal" and subsequent public opinion forces them to accept a clean bill.

    As no other Congress has ever negotiated concessions on raising the debt limit, anything that the repubs get is a victory.

    This is NOT the forum to be negotiating tax increases or spending cuts. A precedent is being set, and it's not a good one.