Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw
June 1, 2011
So here we go, careening into a financial catastrophe, heading for a cliff in a game of “chicken” that is bound to have a really bad ending.
Did you ever see “Rebel Without A Cause”? It was James Dean’s last movie and it featured a scene with a game of chicken: kids driving stolen cars toward the edge of a cliff, the one who jumps out first loses. But the bad kid, the mean thug, gets the sleeve of his leather jacket caught on the door handle; he can’t jump out of the car and he goes over the cliff to his death.
It’s hard to picture John Boehner or Mitch McConnell in a leather jacket, but they seem intent on staging their own game of chicken with the national (and maybe the world) economy.
We should call their movie “Rebel Without a Clue.”
In the original movie, James Dean plays the misunderstood, sensitive kid. The mean guys pick on him and he gets blamed for the fatal result of the game of chicken, even though the thugs were the ones who started it.
That’s the role the Republicans have in mind for Barack Obama. They’ve been getting away with sticking him with the blame after George W. Bush drove the economy into a ditch, so they must figure it’ll be easy to make everyone agree it’s Obama’s fault after they drive off a cliff.
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They might be right.
After all, this time, the fight is over the “debt ceiling” – and surveys have made it clear that most Americans have no idea what the heck a “debt ceiling” is. Or why it should be raised.
All they know is that they hear people screaming, “Debt is bad! Debt is bad! Must cut debt!” So anything that includes the words “debt” and “raise” has got to be terrible.
Ignore that cliff! Full speed ahead!
I hate to say this, but it’s one of the problems of democracy. Voters are often uninformed and uneducated – and they elect representatives who are just as uninformed and just as uneducated as they are.
And they are all – voters and their elected representatives alike – just as proud as can be of their collective ignorance.
As I write this, a vote on the debt ceiling is approaching and The Associated Press is reporting that “House Republican leaders have been holding a series of closed-door meetings to educate lawmakers about the need to increase the debt limit despite opinion polls that show voters hate the idea.”
First of all, it’s amazing to note that the Republican leaders know full well that the debt limit has to be raised. So they’re doing some quick educatin’, just to make sure that everyone knows they really do need to jump out of the car before it goes over the cliff.
And, second of all, this is a hell of a time to start actually educatin’ those elected leaders of the nation.
Imagine if you were going in for brain surgery and you learned that your surgeon was spending the morning in a special coaching session on “The Brain: What it is and where to find it.”
Maybe the thug in “Rebel Without a Cause” could have used a good seminar on “The Door and How to Open It.”
What’s really ludicrous is how some of these “leaders” like to compare the U.S. economy to a household budget.
“When you can’t pay your bills, you cut expenses. And when you’re in debt, you stop borrowing money,” they say. “That’s what you do at home and that’s what we need to do here in Washington, D.C.”
Of course, they know better – they just hope you don’t.
Remember, these are the same people who keep insisting that if they cut taxes, the government will take in more money.
Think about that in their “just like your own household budget” terms.
If you’re too deeply in debt, do you beg your boss to cut your pay?
Of course not. But taxes are the government’s “pay” and lowering taxes is the same as your boss cutting your pay.
(Yes, I know you hate paying taxes. But guess what? Your boss hates paying you, he just knows he has to or you won’t show up for work.)
And, at the risk of over-simplifying, not raising the debt ceiling would be, in those “like your household” terms, the same as you telling the bank, “Sorry, we’ve borrowed too much money, we’ve reached our debt limit. So we won’t be paying our mortgage for a while.”
Will the bank be pleased that you’re being so responsible? Or will they take your house away?
You know the answer to that – it’s why you pay your mortgage.
And it’s why the U.S. debt limit has got to be raised. If we don’t raise it, we won’t be able to pay our obligations. And someone (probably the Chinese) will come and take our house away.
It’s hard to know why the Republicans are willing to take a chance that big with the economy.
Some of them, of course, are idiots who don’t know any better.
But some of them certainly do know better. And they made the calculation that they could play this political game and win.
They got in the car, pointed it toward the cliff and put their foot on the gas.
They figured the Democrats will cave in. They figured that, even if they do go over the cliff, somehow they’ll come out with political advantage.
And they don’t seem to care that the rest of us are trapped in the back seat.
They must believe that if we do go over the cliff, we’ll be too stupid to know we’re dead.
Or maybe they expect we’ll all think it was the Apocalypse and the good guys went to heaven, while the rest of us are stuck here in this hell of a burning car at the bottom of a cliff.