Jonathan Chait wrote a really good article this morning, The Debt-Ceiling Showdown Is the Fight of Obama’s Life. In it, he argues that Obama cannot negotiate on the Debt Ceiling. Even giving the Republicans nothing but a symbolic concession would be catastrophic, because it would just set up another blackmail opportunity for the Republicans the next time that the Debt Ceiling has to be raised. This is absolutely right, but it is slightly deeper than this.
If Obama allows Debt Ceiling negotiations to become a normal thing, it doesn’t just mean that we will have these totally ridiculous fights where our entirely undemocratic Congress can push for unpopular policies that they would never be able to get in the normal legislative manner. It means that the government will breach the Debt Ceiling. So if Obama manages to stop the Republicans from forcing a government default by giving them something, all he will have done is put off the default to some later time. The Debt Ceiling can only be used as a hostage so many times before it gets out of hand.
What is especially bad about the current situation is that in the minds of many reporters, what the Republicans are doing with the government shutdown and Debt Ceiling has become a new normal. Chait quotes Time Magazine reporter Zeke Miller writing, “Hostage taking—by promising harm if you do not get your way—has long been a standard way of doing business in Washington.” But Chait notes this isn’t at all the standard way of doing business:
In other words, there is something entirely new and dangerous about saying, “We will destroy the country if we don’t get what we want!” In contrast, the Democratic examples are just political hardball. And it is hardball only because the Republicans, while making excessive demands on offense, won’t give the slightest when on defense.
This is what makes the current situation potentially very dangerous. There is potential catastrophe if enough “neutral” reporters stand back and say, “This is just the way politics has always worked in the United States. The Republicans aren’t any worse than the Democrats.” If we are to stop these very dangerous political tactics, the country must be united in denouncing them. If we get more both sides now reporting on this issue, we are lost. We might as well just burn the Constitution, because this is not how any constitutional democracy—much less our own—is supposed to work.