As usual, the mainstream media has it, if not 100-percent wrong, pretty close. Here is a rundown of questions and answers, winners and losers coming out of the debt ceiling standoff.
Question: Was it a long, hard negotiation? Answer: Hard, yes; long, no.
OK, it seemed to go on forever. But that’s because when 24/7 cable news sinks its teeth into a story, the combined on-air man-years of Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, Fox Business, Bloomberg – have I missed anyone? Oh, yes, those broadcast guys, CBS, NBC, and ABC, I guess they still matter. When they get going, their combined time on air covering the story comes close to forever.
But in fact the last several weeks were just the latest and a relatively brief showdown in a conflict that goes back to the Reagan years. In the early 80s, the GOP embraced lower taxes and domestic spending. The Democrats did exactly the opposite. A fiscal compromise emerged. Republicans got lower tax rates, but not as low as they wanted. Democrats got higher spending, but not as high as they would have liked.
Over the last few years, the game changed. Yes, the Bush administration allowed too much spending, in effect abdicating the GOP role as the spending restrainer in the two-party drama. But once the Obama administration and overwhelmingly Democratic 111th Congress took office, all balance disappeared. In less than two-and-a-half years they had all but exhausted the triple-A creditworthiness of the U.S. government, a stupendous accomplishment, if you call it that, in so short a time.
With the 2010 election, a large and decisive segment of American voters stood athwart this segment of history and shouted “stop.” The last few weeks have been the first time Congress has played under the rules of this new reality.
Question: Was Congress childish, disgraceful, a mess? Answer: No, not at all.
I know, all the polls say the public is disgusted. But the polls always show distaste for rancor in Washington. And the mainstream media are in a rage, largely because, as the CBS White House correspondent so tellingly put it in a question to Press Secretary Jay Carney yesterday, “they” (the Republicans) got everything from the debt deal, “we” (CBS, presumably, as well as Congressional Democrats and the White House) got nothing.
But tough, out-in-the-open battles have been part of the American system since the Founding. In the United States, big issues get fought in full. And the debt issue is really a return to the battle at the Founding. What is the character of our government? How big can and should it be? How far can it reach into our lives? What is our character as a people? What is the nature of freedom in this republic? What is the character of our economy?
A big battle over such issues is anything but childish.
Who were the winners?
Senator Mitch McConnell leads the pack. He put together the final deal. He showed what it means to be a big-time political leader.
House Speaker John Boehner is also high on the list. He balanced a factious majority, keeping it together enough to control the House despite a united opposition.
Both the Congressional Republican Party and its Tea Party Caucus benefited together. After the spending of the Bush years, much of the GOP vote in the nation came to distrust the party in Congress. They needed to see Republican officeholders stand up to media fire and prevail before they would have confidence in GOP officials again. After these last few weeks, confidence may be starting to return.
Vice President Joe Biden also won. With McConnell, he put the deal together. Morning reports make it clear that only he could have taken that role on his side of the aisle.
The Democratic left also won. Their direct mail haul should soar in the next few months and their base harden.
Who were the losers?
The single biggest loser has been the president. This morning’s Politico said this about his role in the talks:
“McConnell wanted to negotiate primarily with Biden, concerned that other Democrats, especially Obama, would prove to be less trustworthy bargaining partners…. GOP House staffers were burnt out after months of fruitless meetings at the White House that they had taken to calling ‘joke meetings’ or worse still, ‘Professor Obama’s lectures.’”
Mr. Obama’s problem is not this or that detail of the deal. It is that during weeks of intense public attention, he appeared passive, blustering, ineffective. “Hapless” is how John Podhoretz, writing this morning in the New York Post, summed it up. Clive Crook in today’s Financial Times observed that the president merely “stood aside and let things happen,” concluding “his presidency is in trouble.” When commentary from such very different quarters zeros in on the same conclusion about your performance in office, you are in trouble.