Now What, Geniuses?!

D-day is almost upon us, and a deal to raise the debt ceiling is still nowhere to be had. This sick, twisted freak show has not only badly tarnished the reputation of the United States, it now threatens to wreak untold carnage on its economy, even if the unthinkable somehow is avoided. The saddest thing of all is that this was and should have been completely avoidable. This wound did not originate from a foreign country, nor from a terrorist group. This wound was self inflicted.

There is plenty of blame to go around in this fiasco, so, if I may, I’d like to do a variation of Dave Lettermen Top Ten segment, only in this case, I will limit it to five. Unlike Letterman, I’ll go from top to bottom; no sense delaying the suspense. Call this an early edition of next month’s “Idiots’ Delight.”

The Top Five Key Players Who Blew Up the Country

1. President Obama: Last week the President had at the very least an understanding between himself and John Boehner – call it a frame work if you will – on what could very well have been the deal that not only would’ve resulted in a debt ceiling increase, but would’ve been substantial enough to appease Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s. It had roughly $3 trillion in spending cuts, coupled with roughly $800 billion in revenues (Yes, there was this little problem about whether all of this would come through tax reform, but at least Obama got Boehner to commit to the concept of revenue increases).

And then Obama went back and asked for more revenues - $400 billion – knowing full well Boehner was on thin ice with his base to begin with. Boehner had his out and the President was “left at the alter.” There is an old saying among salesmen: once you get the customer to say “yes,” you shut up and write him up. We’ll never know if Boehner actually had the votes or not – I’m guessing he probably didn’t and he knew that full well – but when you get a Republican, any Republican, to agree to revenue increases you quit while you’re at least tied and take what you can get. Instead he got greedy, a common mistake among many in my profession. Obama badly misread the situation and his blunder might well end up costing the whole nation dearly.

2. John Boehner: Agent Orange deserves much of the blame for the intransigence of his caucus. He is the Speaker of the House; it is his job to lead his party, and for most of his seven months in charge, he has behaved like a referee in a wrestling match, while letting his number two, Eric Cantor, ostensibly run roughshod over him. He has been rebuked and schooled by people who quite frankly aren’t fit to tie his shoes and he has permitted what should have been an orderly march toward a resounding victory for his Party to be turned into a circus, and, in so doing, might well end up presiding over its demise in 2012.

Yes, Obama “moved the goalposts” on him. So what? When someone changes the deal on you, you get back into the ring and change it back. That’s what tough negotiators do. Apparently, Boehner doesn’t have the stomach for a real fight. Only now is he confronting the spoiled brats within his caucus and chiding them to get on board six days late and two and a half trillion dollars short. Maybe if he shed a few more tears he might actually get some sympathy. As things stand now he is earning the wrath of conservatives, liberals and centrists alike, and deservedly so. Worse, his “compromise” won’t even be enough to stave off a downgrade of America’s credit rating, assuming it ever gets out of the House, which I for one am betting it doesn’t.

3. Eric Cantor, A/K/A Benedict Arnold: For most of the last two months, Cantor has been undermining his boss’s authority. During the preliminary discussions between Obama and Boehner, it was Cantor who kept interrupting and, yes, correcting the Speaker on numerous occasions. Can you imagine anyone doing that to Nancy Pelosi? Don’t bothering answering, it’s never been done, at least not in public.

Cantor’s arrogance, disrespect and downright foolishness made it all the more difficult for Boehner to work out a deal with the President when a deal that could’ve been advantageous was at hand. Thanks to his meddling, the Tea Party caucus became even more emboldened and Boehner even less able to effectively lead. Had he stayed out of the way, it is quite possible the nightmare we are watching at this moment could’ve been avoided.

To add insult to injury, now Cantor is rallying Republicans around Boehner’s lame compromise. With friends like this…

4. Timothy Geithner: The treasury secretary made several huge political blunders. The first was to think for even a minute that the Administration was going to get a clean debt-ceiling bill. Given the results of last year’s midterm elections, and the tumultuous atmosphere in Washington, this was the height of naiveté.

But the second blunder was even worse. Geithner did a deplorable job explaining thoroughly just what the debt ceiling issue was. He still has not made clear that the May 16th deadline was, in fact, THE statutory deadline for raising the debt ceiling. Since that date, the treasury has been borrowing monies from various other places in the budget to meet the nation’s obligations.

His error allowed two things to happen: One, it gave the wingnuts on the Right momentum to say that the whole debt ceiling issue was nothing more than a smoke screen, that it wasn’t real and that the Administration could still meet its obligations to pay the debt interest along with social security benefits and veterans pay without defaulting. Two, because of the mixed messages and ambiguous language that came out of Treasury, most Americans didn’t get the distinction, nor for that matter the seriousness of the situation. As late as last week, a majority of people still did not fully understand the ramifications of the pending default. Most of what they heard came from AM talk radio, and almost all of it wrong.

Nice going, Timmy.

5. The Chamber of Commerce, Wall Street, the Koch Brothers, Freedom Works and Fox News: Yes, it’s a five-way tie for fifth place, and believe me, I thought long and hard about making them the first place entrée. Their crime, besides being lying sacks of crap? Collectively, they are all responsible for the elevation of the Tea Party, first to notoriety and then to power. Like the industrialists of the early 1930s in Germany, who thought they could “handle” Hitler, these true ideologues actually believed they could create their own Frankenstein monster, set him loose on the electorate, but still have control over him. Yeah, and I’m foolish enough to believe I will see back to back world series championships from the Mets before I die.

Well, just like in Mary Shelley’s famous novel, the monster has turned on its creator and, in predictable fashion, is terrorizing the village. I predicted this would happen. Once given life, this monstrosity of a movement literally set out to do exactly what it said it was going to do. They are as fearless as they are clueless, defiantly beholden to principles they know little about and totally devoid of any sense of pragmatism. They view compromise as inimical to their cause. And now, they are just days away from bringing the largest and most enduring Democracy to its knees, and with it most of the Western world.

Somewhere, James Madison is spinning in his grave. His warning in Federalist, Number 10 is worth noting here.

“A pure Democracy, by which I mean, a Society, consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the Government in person, can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert results from the form of Government itself; and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party, or an obnoxious individual. Hence it is, that such Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”

The lone silver lining in all this? It comes from a most unlikely source: John McCain. Yes, the man who stuck us with Sarah Palin stood up on the floor of the Senate and gave the best speech he’s probably given in almost ten years, although to be fair, he was quoting a Wall Street Journal editorial for a good chunk of it. This is the good chunk.

“The idea seems to be that if the House GOP refuses to raise the debt ceiling, a default crisis or gradual government shutdown will ensue, and the public will turn en masse against . . . . Barack Obama," McCain said, quoting the Journal piece. "The Republican House that failed to raise the debt ceiling would somehow escape all blame. Then Democrats would have no choice but to pass a balanced-budget amendment and reform entitlements, and the Tea-Party Hobbits could return to Middle Earth having defeated Mordor. This is the kind of crack political thinking that turned Sharron Angle and Christine O'Donnell into GOP Senate nominees.”

I have only one question to ask the Senator from Arizona: WHAT TOOK YOU SO LONG?