Political Animal


July 15, 2011 1:55 PM Struggling with the ‘Reality Gap’

By Steve Benen

Dave Weigel noted yesterday, “There is a Reality Gap in the negotiations over the debt limit.”

I not only think that’s true; I think that gap is beginning to define American politics.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) appeared on “Hardball” the other day, and was asked to defend his pro-default approach to governing. Pressed by Chris Matthews for evidence, King replied, “I don’t trust the words of any source.”

This was amusing, in a soul-crushing sort of way, but it was also predictable. As David Brooks recently noted, the contemporary Republican Party is dominated by those who “do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities.”

This would include those who believe in arithmetic. Rep. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) argued today that if the government raises revenue, it will make the debt worse. Why? Because taxes lead to “fewer revenue dollars.” In other words, having more money in the Treasury would mean having less money in the Treasury.

He wasn’t kidding.

Then there’s this gem, that actually managed to surprise me.

Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), another freshman, said that a much bigger fear was that raising the debt ceiling would enable Washington to spend itself into paralyzing debt in a few years.

“A debt-ceiling problem, as large as it is, is not anywhere near as a big or as bad as” that, Brooks said. If Aug. 2 arrives without a deal, Brooks said, the federal government could continue paying creditors. He said that a show of tough fiscal self-discipline could actually improve creditors’ confidence.

“There should be no default on August 2,” Brooks said. “In fact, our credit rating should be improved by not raising the debt ceiling.”

Got that? Here we have an elected federal lawmaker who believes failing to raise the debt ceiling will be good for the nation’s credit rating. He’s even willing to admit this belief on the record, to one of the nation’s leading newspapers.

A senior administration official recently noted those who simply choose not to believe any of the warning related to the debt limit. “These are the kinds of people who get eaten by bears,” the official said.

That’s true, but what happens when these lunatics hold us all back so severely that that the bears get all of us?

The problem that plagues the nation is not about competing parties, ideologies, or creeds. It comes down to a dispute between those who believe empirical reality exists and deserves to be taken seriously vs. those who don’t. With Republican members of Congress and their supporters choosing the latter, it’s increasingly difficult to imagine the United States thriving in the 21st century.

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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  • DAY on July 15, 2011 1:56 PM:

    too much Bible Camp and Home Schooling.

  • Cap'n Phealy on July 15, 2011 2:01 PM:

    Ah, faith-based economics will save us all!

  • dalloway on July 15, 2011 2:01 PM:

    They've always been beaten by the facts before -- so this time, they've decided THERE ARE NO FACTS. They make their own reality, remember?

  • TR on July 15, 2011 2:02 PM:

    Jesus Christ, these people really are mouth-breathing idiots.

  • memekiller on July 15, 2011 2:05 PM:

    It takes a village to make a political party insane. You need the Jay Carneys, the Joe Klein's and establishment rationalizing the crazy, and making anyone who would complain about about the GOP's extremism out to be hyperventillating boobs. You need a Democratic Party willing to reward the GOP for their extremist hardball over and over and over again willingly getting suckered. You need journalists never willing to say what's at stake or true, and reducing reporting to an bias-free, paint-by-numbers that requires you to be blind to it being abused.

    The second any one of the GOP's enablers refuses to play this game any more, it's over. They may get some heat, for a time, from the other cohorts who have brought us to this point. The only thing worse than recognizing your part in this charade is coming late to the realization.

    Every time we're asked to rally behind what we know to be bad policy and champion it, we only own the opposition's failures, and allow them to complain that it's because we didn't go far enough.

  • Curmudgeon on July 15, 2011 2:05 PM:

    What Rep. Tim Scott (R-Douchebag) actually meant was that more money in the Treasury means less money in his pocket from the uber-rich who buy his lunches.

  • zandru on July 15, 2011 2:08 PM:

    I was optimistic earlier this week, but at this point, I truly believe that this is the last weekend of the Late Great United States of America.

    Check out talkingpointsmemo - the big Boner is claiming that his House won't even bother to vote on any debt ceiling bills until they've first voted on a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution. And the Tea Bag caucus has upped the ante - they won't even VOTE on the debt ceiling until AFTER the Congress has PASSED the Balanced Budget Amendment and SENT IT TO THE STATES.

    Sorry about the shouting. I'm also tearing out my (few remaining) hairs.

  • c u n d gulag on July 15, 2011 2:09 PM:

    When does 'National Talk Like a Pirate Decade' start?

    This "National Republcan's Talking Gibberish Decade" has worn out its welcome...

    Instead of this nonsense, I'd rather listen to ten years of "Argh, Matey..." It'll make more sense.

  • Rick Massimo on July 15, 2011 2:10 PM:

    Maybe someone (Steve?) has some inside knowledge that can correct me, but I'm beginning to sincerely believe that a large number of Republicans in Congress literally don't know what the debt limit is. At best, they think debt is the same thing as a deficit, and at worst they just know "debt" is bad, so a limit on that must be good, so raising the limit must be bad.

  • Mxyzptlk on July 15, 2011 2:11 PM:

    But the Repubs are right that we don't have to default even without raising the debt ceiling. I think there's too much focus on that aspects, because the first dollars Obama will spend are the debt service. What I haven't heard asked in explicit terms -- given that the treasury receives enough revenue to pay 60% of its bills, is which 40% the Repubs don't think we should pay. Not over ten years, but starting next month, in one fell swoop. Most of my conservative friends talk about cutting waste and killing a program or department or two. They don't seem to understand that all of those government programs, every single aspects of running the government save defense, represents just about 20% of the budget.

  • Stephen Stralka on July 15, 2011 2:11 PM:

    Yes, something very strange has happened. Basically about 2/3 of all Americans believe that at least 1/3 of all Americans are out of their minds. The third that are farthest to the left believe, with ample evidence, that the third that are farthest to the right have abandoned all reason and sanity.

    The third that are farthest to the right, meanwhile, believe that the third that are farthest to the left are crazy because they keep insisting that tax cuts do not magically increase government revenue.

    But the strangest part of all is that the third in the middle so far appear not to have noticed any of this. I don't know to what extent the mainstream media actually represent that middle third, but it sure would help if they stopped pretending everybody is being reasonable.

  • R on July 15, 2011 2:12 PM:

    P.S.: Actually, the truly worst explanation is that they think "Obama wants the debt limit raised, so we're not gonna do it." And that's probably closest to the truth, isn't it?

  • walt on July 15, 2011 2:12 PM:

    The fundamentalism at the heart of the GOP is also a fundamental security threat to the United States of America. You don't manage a first-world nation with fairy tales and wishful thinking. Yet to listen to Republicans today, you'd think that's all it takes. Having mainstreamed this extremism, the MSM now looks on its handiwork and chides the Democrats. Meet them halfway! Compromise more! You protest: these people don't compromise but we have to? What kind of deal is this? The MSM respond: you're being shrill and divisive. The American people will punish you!

    The insanity in this country is now a closed-loop that joins elite opinion and Dogpatch bromides.

  • DAY on July 15, 2011 2:31 PM:

    -following on walt's thoughts, the GOP is coming to resemble the Taliban. You know, those folks who destroy "graven idols', stone women, hang gays, and convince idiots to blow themselves up.

    I think the Greatest Generation will also be the Last Generation.

  • T2 on July 15, 2011 2:31 PM:

    and now we hear that Boner is going to spend next week passing some worthless POLITICALLY motivated fake bills in the House to make the likes of Cantor happy....the debt ceiling negotiations will have to wait until that phony crap is done.

  • Marko on July 15, 2011 2:33 PM:

    @Mxyzptlk - sure we could pay the interest on the debt, but the government would not have enough cash to back all the checks they print: SS, Medicare, military, government, etc. So how do you decide which ones not to pay? It's one thing to shut down the government for political reasons, as was done in the 90s. But running out of cash is a whole nuther ball game.

    Everybody on the planet with any brains knows this, except the right-wingers which have their hands on their ears going, "La! La! La!"

    But don't worry, they will get the message loud and clear very soon.

  • fourlegsgood on July 15, 2011 2:34 PM:

    It's clear then. The solution to our problems is MORE BEARS IN DC.

  • Gandalf on July 15, 2011 2:35 PM:

    C'mon everybody here. There's no explaining people who choose to be insane. These republicans and teabaggers are not sane. Let's all just accept that fact and try and figure out how to deal with them. If they get their way they're gonna fuck most of us hard. I for one think for all the chaos they're gonna cause they should find a nice comfy corner in hell to rest for eternity and not have to worry their pretty little heads about grownup matters.

  • c u n d gulag on July 15, 2011 2:35 PM:

    "I think the Greatest Generation will also be the Last Generation."

    You win the internets for the day, DAY.

    Go to 'Receiving" and collect your prize.

    What's that, CAPTCHA, girl?

    sibill finan

    What about her? Is she ok? WHAT!

  • jjm on July 15, 2011 2:40 PM:

    What I don't get is that the crazy ones are allowed to express their insanity without swift rebuttal by the very newspeople who are showcasing them and obviously laughing at them at the same time.

  • SecularAnimist on July 15, 2011 2:41 PM:

    Steve Benen wrote: "It comes down to a dispute between those who believe empirical reality exists and deserves to be taken seriously vs. those who don’t."

    Not really.

    It comes down to scorched-earth class warfare by the most ruthless, rapacious and reactionary elements of the ultra-rich corporate oligarchy against everyone else, waged in large part by their bought-and-paid-for pseudo-ideological stooges in Congress who spout scripted, focus-group-tested bullshit to bamboozle gullible Ditto-Head dupes into voting against their own interests.

  • MarkJ on July 15, 2011 2:43 PM:

    I realized that a lot of folks in Congress don't know what they're talking about some time ago. The real tipping point when Ben Nelson started talking about paying for the wars with "war bonds" rather than taking on more debt. When a senator doesn't even know that bonds are a form of government debt after years in Congress, you know you're not dealing with mental giants. Unfortunately, Nelson would be one of the brightest of the bright, were he in the republican party (which he pretty much is anyway). These people don't know squat about squat - they just think they do. The problem is they won't listen to anyone who does know, and what they think they know is all wrong.

  • Bartender on July 15, 2011 2:47 PM:

    Forget about the debt limit dust up, this country is facing a much deeper crisis with the intellegence deficit of freshmen GOP house members (aka bear food) who could (and should) star on Jay Leno's Jaywalking All-Stars panel.

  • Mike on July 15, 2011 2:54 PM:

    I'm not sure what Tim Scott said, but what he probably meant was that if tax RATES to up, then tax REVENUES will go down. The theory there is that people won't have as much incentive to make more money if they're just going to have to give it to the government. But even that theory is arguable. If people CAN make more money, usually they WILL regardless of what the tax rates are. Also, the kinds of marginal increases that are being proposed are not nearly enough to cause businesses to curtail investment. The biggest problem is lack of demand, not tax rates.

    Sadly, Republicans don't seem to want to recognize this.

  • Jack G on July 15, 2011 3:00 PM:

    In the late 80's, the Soviet Union collapsed. The specific causes were much different than our own situation (with the exception of a common war in Afghanistan), but, in general, it came about because their political system was unable to address the larger problems facing them. The point is that in our modern, high-tech, highly inter-dependent world a collapse can happen very fast.
    Another historical collapse was that of the Roman Empire. I remember reading that some historians attributed that partially to their use of lead pipes carrying their drinking water. It caused brain damage which made much of the population less intelligent. Today our "lead pipes" are Fox News, Limbaugh, et. al.

  • Mr. Serf Man on July 15, 2011 3:06 PM:

    zandru I have to agree with you . We're going down for the count. I knew this for sure when I saw the Triumvirate of stupid, Bachmaann, Ghomert and King telling me on the teevee nooze that the debt ceiling was a lie. No talking head to laugh them off the stage .. no push back from the MSM. ..just presented as one side of the story.

    Idiocracy : The Documentary

  • digitusmedius on July 15, 2011 3:07 PM:

    I'm glad we no longer see articles on PA any more that bemoan the lack of sense coming out of the mouths of Republicans. They haven't made sense for years and it's even worse now...they're outright lunatics.

  • Zorro on July 15, 2011 3:20 PM:

    The whirring sound you hear are conservative intellectuals like William F. Buckley and Whittaker Chambers spinning in their graves.


  • Tom W on July 15, 2011 3:25 PM:

    I’d like to suggest that the manner in which this gibberish has been legitimized depresses all discourse. By politely answering to it instead of addressing it with cruel laughter we are compelled to simplify our explanations to a level a chimpanzee can understand. I and others have complained that the White House proposals are less than real solutions but, I guess my proposals would't be any better if I were compelled to speak with chimps.

  • Sean Scallon on July 15, 2011 4:11 PM:

    “do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities.”

    Because are the same people who they listened to when they supported the wars in Iraq and continued war in Afghanistan and TARP as well. After all that's happened over the past decade, why does anyone think they listen to such persons, especially the biggest war cheerleader of all, David Brooks?

  • N.Wells on July 15, 2011 4:28 PM:

    Many of the rabid R's began their detachment from reality with by fundamentalist religious upbringing training them to swallow any manner of nonsense without questioning. They became inured to cognitive dissonance by listening endlessly to the Limbaugh drumbeat and Fox News, and honed their skills in denying evidence and chopping logic by years of rejecting evolution and disputing global warming. Then in the Bush years, common words lost their actual meanings (free speech zones, torture, clean skies, healthy forests, and mission accomplished) and qualifications got completely inverted so that no experience, poor grades, and draft evasion was better than expertise, accomplishment, and heroism in war). After all that, it is a wonder than these folks can still function on a day to day basis. (Each week, "Idiocracy" looks ever more prescient.)

  • ohhenery on July 15, 2011 5:05 PM:

    Rep. King may have inadvertently hit upon what's preventing his ilk from thinking for themselves. Maybe he should invoke that the next time he's asked to sign a pledge or spread the day's propaganda delivered to him by think tanks or echo the latest slurs manufactured by team insult. Probably doesn't mean it anyway. But hey, it sounds good.

  • rusty chainsaw on July 15, 2011 5:29 PM:

    War is Peace
    Freedom is Slavery
    Ignorance is Strength

  • JM917 on July 15, 2011 8:37 PM:

    Back in the 1920s, H.L. Mencken concluded that the words and actions of Congress and the states had turned the United States into "a buffoon among the great nations."

    He should have lived to see the antics of the Kings, the Scotts, the Gomehrts, the De Mints, the Perrys, the Bachmanns, the Palins... (I'm out of breath, and I haven't even started with the televangelists, the radio talkers, and Fox News.)

    All this wingnuttery would be hilarious if it didn't present such a clear and present danger to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness within These States, to the heaalth of the global economy, and to the fate of a warming planet.

  • nk007 on July 16, 2011 2:59 AM:

    I think we are all missing the real point about the teabag-Republican madness. Sure, they are prepared to push the country over the cliff. But the question is why? I contend that it's not about debt ceiling, or deficits, or small government. or privatizing SS and Medicare. I am sure these are important issues to them. But I believe that the#1 for the teabag-Republican's is doing everything to make sure that President Obama is a one term President. The teabag-Republicans are taking their marching orders from right wing talk radios, FOX, and billionaires like the Koch brothers. Rush Limbaugh made that clear the momemnt President Obam took the oath of Office in January 2009. He wanted the President to fail!. Mitch McConnell repeated the same goal after 2010 elections: His #1 goal was to ensure that President Obama was a one term President.

    If I had a million dollars (which I don't), I would wager it on this proposition: Republicans would drop all their opposition to raising the debt ceiling, and all these talks about deficits, if President Obama announced tomorrow that he is not running for a second term. This whole issue is not about conservative Republican principles. This manufactured crisis is all about the visceral objection that Barak Obama is President.

    By the way the same goes for the so called pure progressives.They too don't want Brak Obama as President. period! Where was Jane Hamsher, Adam Green, Glenn Greenwald, Cenk Uygur, Don Choi, Cornel West, Ed Shultz, Rachel Maddow, MoveOn, and their loyal supporters, during Bill Clinton's presidency? How come these pure progressive were not out there joining Rush Limbaugh, and other right wing talk radio hosts, in attacking Bill Clinton, 24-7? We of course know where Arianna Huffington was there: she was a vocal ally of the right wingers who were attacking Bill Clinton. At least she is consistent in attacking Democratic Presidents. She did it against President Clinton from the right, now she is doing to President Obama from the so called left progressive side.

    I ask this question about Bill Clinton not because I have any ill feelings against President Clinton. I supported and voted for President Clinton, though his policies were not as progressive as I would have liked. After all: he talked about ending the "era of big government" and of "welfare as we know it." He signed DADT and DOMA. Yet, in my book, President Clinton was still 100% better than the rabid right wing Republicans who were attacking him. I think that it is the support of people,like me, who may not have agreed with Bill Clinton on all his policies that saved his presidency when it was under vicious attacks from the right wingers. So why is it that the "holier than thou progressives" have joined the teabag-Republicans to sink the presidency of Barak Obama with their 24-7 relentless attacks, despite the fact that he has reversed many of the negative policies embraced by President Clinton? WHY?

    Is President Obama worse than FDR who sent innocent Japanese Americans to detention camps without trial, and who refused to endorse the anti-lynching bill? Is President Obama worse than Truman who dropped a bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Is President Obama worse than JFK who did not send Federal troops to protect civil rights protesters being attacked by dogs and fire water horses in Birmingham, Alabama? Is President Obama worse than LBJ who escalated the Vietnam war? Is President Obama worse than Bill Clinton who compromised with Republicans on welfare, affirmative action, and signed DADT and DOMA? WHY all this relentless and vitriol attacks on President Obam from the so called left?

    MoveOn was formed to shield Bill Clinton to counter the silly and vicious attacks from right wingers. How come MoveOn is either silent, or is now participating with people who are out there demonizing a Democratic President who has been under attack from vicious right wingers from day one of his Presidency? WHY?