Last week, we got to see how the “big boys” play the old childhood neighborhood game of chicken. You know, that old, foolish game of dare you’d play with your friends where you’d risk life and limb (usually standing in front of a car, or a train or a cherry bomb) to prove no point at all, other than maybe you were a bigger fool than the person you were playing with. Of course, then we thought we were being brave. As we learn later in life, bravery is standing in the face of danger for a just cause. Courage is standing for right, regardless of the consequences, when most others choose not to. All the rest of that was (is) stupid.
We certainly saw Congress’ version of “stupid” last week when they threatened (and are still threatening) to shut down the federal government. The danger of politics is that it is open to disingenuous interjection where it ends up becoming more foolish banter than courageous engagement.
It is more chicken (little) rhetoric than brave posturing. For nearly a week, we witnessed our federal government leaders go back and forth while the clock ticked down on if or when the government would run out of money. Well, certainly reasonable men can come to some reason conclusion for the benefit of all, right? No, not really. Not when one of them are operating under a disingenuous premise. Sometimes, when you play chicken, it’s because the other person wants to see you get hurt when they have no intention of getting hurt. That’s what we witnessed however. A staring contest of chicken in which nobody intended to blink unless they got their way.
We know, theoretically, the government can never really run out of money. It would just do what it has done for nearly 100 years, spend at a deficit or money it doesn’t have…or simply print more (and devalue the currency). What they were really saying that since the federal government needs Congress to approve a budget in order to operate, we will use this opportunity to espouse our ideological positions and hold the budget hostage until we can make our point. And that’s what was done.
The Republicans in the House of Representatives proposed a budget that sought to cut the guts out of America’s social safety net. President Obama said there was no way in hell he’d sign that budget…and the gamesmanship began. The question the public needs to ask is, was it ever a sincere negotiation or just an opportunity to dominate the 24 hour news cycle for five straight days? In John Boehner’s first opportunity to extract leadership in the 112th Congress, rife with new Tea Party ideologues that registered as Republicans but not even he can control, the nation witnessed a cruel, insensitive proposal of “Reaganequese” across the board budget cuts, that included eliminating Medicaid, reducing Social Security, cutting Pell Grants and cutting education.
The Republicans sought to exact a nearly 30-year-old failed strategy (Reagan cut $700 billion out of the 1983 budget) while exempting the rich from a tax increase. The flaw in the federal budgetary discussions is that most of it focuses on the expense side while failing to come up with viable alternatives on the revenue side. To the President’s credit, he has sought to address the question of new revenue, a very modest increase in taxes for the one percent of the population we call “the rich.” The Republicans, who represent a significant portion of the middle class, refuse to consider it. And the Democrats in the Senate, where they still hold the majority, refuse to consider any of the proposed tax cuts that would adversely impact the poor and middle class. So, gridlock prevailed, the very thing the America public said they were tired of.
Then the government shutdown started to buzz, and the question of which party would be responsible for the government being shut down. Both party says it’s the other party’s fault and the President gets involved. Now once the deal points were set, both parties had to take the deal back to their respective caucuses and that’s when the deal got twisted. The Democrats deal points remained the same. The Republicans moved each time, clearly an attempt to leverage the Democrats…just because they could. Once the Democrats refused to move anymore, the game of chicken began while the clock ticked.
It might have been entertainment for them but it most certainly wasn’t very entertaining for the American public. As the clock ticked down, it became obvious that neither side had no intention on letting the government shut down. Neither party wins if that happens. Both parties blinked and more rational minds prevailed amid the ideological rhetoric. It was just an opportunity to dig at President Obama, and play chicken with each other…and the livelihood of the American people. Too bad.
We can’t wait for the next round…hopefully, it will not be just about the rhetoric.