The Assumptions Underlying Harrop’s Insanity
One would think that members of an editorial staff would offer each other the service of gently warning their coworkers when they near the deep end. Or perhaps Froma Harrop is firmly convinced of the approaching death of newspapers and is effectively auditioning for a part in the far-left blind heat machine.
Granted, her tirade against the Tea Party movement, Republicans, and even President Obama has the incongruent quality of being both inane to the point of offense and unoriginal. It’s one thing for a writer with a well-paying publicly visible job to rant like an overly righteous undergrad; it’s quite another if she does so with an undergrad’s lack of originality, and a column that Jeff Jacoby published in the Boston Globe the same day that Harrop’s diatribe ran illustrates that we’d already heard it all. Here’s Harrop’s version:
Make no mistake: The Tea Party Republicans have engaged in economic terrorism against the U.S. — threatening to blow up the economy if they don’t get what they want. And like the al-Qaida bombers, what they want is delusional: the dream of restoring some fantasy caliphate in which no one pays taxes, while the country is magically protected from foreign attack and the elderly get government-paid hip replacements.
Americans are not supposed to negotiate with terrorists, but that’s what Obama has been doing. Obama should have grabbed the bully pulpit early on, bellowing that everything can be discussed but not America’s honor, which requires making good on its debt obligations. Lines about “we’re all at fault” and “Republicans should compromise” are beyond pathetic on a subject that should be beyond discussion.
Oh, please, Mr. Obama, follow Harrop’s advice! Better yet, Democrats, please do not hesitate to find a candidate who promises her a taste of the red meat that she knows to be just beyond the rabid foam that coats her lips.
For the sake of finding some way of salvaging intellectual discussion from Harrop’s ravings, though, pause for a moment to consider what she must believe to be true in order to come to her conclusions:
In the last half century, Congress has raised the debt ceiling 49 times under Republican presidents and 29 times under Democrats. The votes were cast without drama because the idea of this country defaulting on its debts was unthinkable. This last-minute deal notwithstanding, the dangerous precedent whereby America’s promise to pay what it owes can be brought into political play has been set. …
Republicans are ultimately going to take the rap over this debt-ceiling outrage. The full faith and credit of the United States is not a matter over which reasonable people may disagree, and the larger public knows that in its heart.
Two assumptions must be met for this to be logically consistent, and I don’t think the “larger public” shares those assumptions. They’re certainly arguable enough that a rational person would restrain her rhetoric when standing upon them to speak (or snarl, as the case is).
First, she assumes that the debt ceiling ought to be little more than a mile marker on the highway — passed with scarcely a notice and signifying nothing of substantial concern. To the contrary, I suspect the average attention-paying American would think it reasonable for the debt ceiling to be, at the very least, a mechanism for generating real political heat whenever elected representatives pass it. This is a “real success” of the Republicans’ debt-ceiling maneuvers (albeit inadequate to current challenges), as Charles Krauthammer states:
… because of the Boehner rule — which he invented on his own out of whole cloth in that speech he gave at the New York Economic Club a few months ago in which he said a dollar of debt ceiling increase has to be matched by a dollar of spending cuts (which, Jay Carney is right, there’s no logical connection, but now there is a political indelible connection) — every time the debt ceiling will come up, there’s going to be a debate in the country. This is a real success.
Second, Harrop assumes that every expenditure of government is akin to an immutable debt resting on the “full faith and credit of the United States.” Real cuts to government spending may be difficult, but they can be accomplished without a financial default. One wonders whether the reason that the Fromarian ilk has rattled off its hinges is that they fear a society inclined to reconsider — and force their elected representatives to reconsider — whether government can in fact do everything.
Put differently, they fear a civic process in which it is no longer adequate to force a policy into law — by legislation, by executive order, by bureaucratic regulation, or by judicial decree — but rather, in which paying for that policy and its enforcement must be justified every year.