There is a buzzing sound coming from my television. It is the sound of hundreds of pundits chattering over thousands of recorded sound-bytes. Over the last several weeks, the United States has been in uproar over the indecision in Washington.
Many newscasters and common Americans have described the behavior of Congress as childish. I agree. There actually is no imminent danger as our lawmakers suggest. The debt ceiling might as well be made of marshmallow ponies when one considers how imaginary and fleeting it is. After all, the debt ceiling has been raised 74 times since March 1962. Without a debt ceiling, the country would simply keep borrowing, pay its debts, and focus on restarting the economy. Our leaders have created a crisis for themselves to capitalize on. Unfortunately for them, they are doing a terrible job of it. The Republicans are using the debt ceiling as a bargaining chip to gain points with their conservative constituency by attempting to cut the budget and de-fund programs that the Democrats approved. This might have been a strategy worth pursuing in a more stable economy and with better leadership.
John Boehner, the speaker and leader of the majority in the Republican-dominated House of Representatives, is using this faux crisis to attempt to put his name into the average American’s mind. He’s doing that admirably, but not in the way that he intended – he has firmly attached to himself a reputation for being a hot-tempered and ineffectual leader. He has managed to turn the debt-ceiling debate into a national spectacle, but he entered the stage without any support from his party. His insistence on pushing his debt-reduction bill through voting has come off as foolish, as the Democrats have already put forth a bill that many view as more effective at dealing with the issue.
However, the looming threat of economic collapse cannot be blamed entirely on Boehner. Both parties are responsible for this political circus. The Democrats neglected to foresee and prevent this situation when they controlled the legislature, despite the obvious consequences of carefree spending. The main factor in this issue is the backward system of incentives that prevails in our federal government. Our congressmen and women are less representatives of the people in this day and age than they are representatives of a political party. They are agents of corporations whose purpose is to gain power, influence, and money through political theater. Both political parties are machines that train and send out politicians whose job it is to recruit activists and write legislation that benefits the leaders of the organizations. In return, the politicians benefit from the support and marketing influence of the party.
This is exactly what is happening right now in Washington – our “representatives” are stalling and arguing to push through broad-sweeping legislation that could easily conceal hidden benefits for those to whom they owe their thanks for a career. Simultaneously, they are attempting to place blame on the other party so as to grant themselves better chances in the next election.
If this political circus continues and the United States is allowed to default on her debt, it will not matter who was being blamed in the media. Congress will be completely thrown out in the next election, and Obama will have a hell of a time explaining his way out of the mess. Being careless with money is one thing. But if the interest rate on every mortgage and loan in America goes through the roof while retirement accounts shrivel up, the American people will remember who to blame: our lame-duck leadership as a whole.