Given all the drama, hand-wringing and arm-twisting involved, you might think that the legislation approved last night by the House represents an achievement of historic importance.
It does not.
Seldom has so much intrigue been committed to such small effect. The bill sidesteps the so-called “fiscal cliff,” but it does so by accomplishing little and resolving nothing. It merely means that two months from now, the same set of players will re-enact this same sad-sack spectacle, as the federal government lurches from crisis to crisis like some banana republic that is incapable of ruling itself.
Yet as painful and as ugly as the process might be, it is also sadly necessary. The mental, emotional and political recalibration required when unrealistic ideology finally runs head on into reality does not happen quickly or easily. It is, as they say, a process rather than an event, and in this case the process will be drawn out, public and politically bloody.
Even after this latest defeat, congressional Republicans continue to tell themselves that in the next confrontation, this time over the debt-limit ceiling, they will finally have “leverage” they need over President Obama and Senate Democrats. They seem to believe that by threatening to push the country into default on its debt — a step with economy-wrecking consequences likely to last a generation — they will be able to rally the American people to their cause.
I don’t believe things works like that. To the contrary, the strategy reeks of desperation. In a poll taken last month by CNN, 53 percent of Americans already said that they consider the policies of the GOP to be too extreme. That’s an extraordinarily high number — just 37 percent said the same about Democrats, for example. It’s also telling that in 2010, before Republicans won control of the House, just 36 percent of Americans considered the party’s policies too extreme.
The last two years, in other words, have proved disastrous for the party’s reputation, particularly among moderates and independents. They are no longer deemed responsible by a growing number of American citizens. In such a political setting, holding a pistol to the temple of the U.S. economy and threatening to pull the trigger unless you get your way would seem a less-than-sterling means of winning friends and influencing people.
– Jay Bookman