Yesterday, The Washington Post editorial page turned into Springfield, circa 1991. Not Springfield, Illinois or Springfield, Massachusetts. That more famous Springfield. The one that’s home to the Simpsons.
You see, 20 years ago Lisa Simpson wished for a world in which every nation laid down its arms and there was peace. And it was done. But then two crafty aliens landed in Springfield and took over the earth, armed only with a slingshot and a club.
What does that have to do with The Washington Post? Well, we’re just days into the debate about raising the debt ceiling and they’ve already given up.
Here’s what I mean:
Every politician knows that voting to raise the debt ceiling, particularly in an electoral environment like this one, is dangerous. Large swaths of the electorate are opposed. And the most angry and energized conservatives have made it an article of faith to punish legislators who facilitate more government spending. Voting to raise the debt ceiling is a tough vote--politically. [See editorial cartoons about the federal budget and deficit.]
But on the merits, it’s got to be one of the easiest votes ever. Everyone from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich agrees that we must raise the debt ceiling. That’s true of just about every economist of every political stripe, too. They say that if we don’t it will lead America, and perhaps the global economy, to literal economic ruin. The stakes couldn’t be higher.
Democrats are on board. They’re pushing for a “clean” vote on the debt ceiling—an up or down vote on that issue alone. In essence they’re saying: let’s do what needs to be done and get it over with. Then we can move on to the myriad other pressing matters confronting the nation.
Republicans are in a different place. They’re making increasingly belligerent demands to tie various kinds of “reforms” to the debt ceiling vote. Deep spending cuts. A balanced budget amendment. Caps on future spending. All sorts of things that may or may not have merit, but which are also deeply partisan and political. And they say they won’t vote to raise the debt ceiling unless their demands are met—if they vote for it at all. [Read the U.S. News debate: Should Congress raise the national debt limit?]
Their position in a nutshell: I’m a Republican and I’m not going to prevent economic ruin unless I get these other things that I really, really, really want. It’s the politics of temper tantrum. Only this time the baby’s got his finger on the nuclear launch codes.
Cue the media. There’s a reason “freedom of the press” is enshrined in the First Amendment. It’s because the Founding Fathers envisioned a Fourth Estate that held government accountable at times just like these.
Instead, we get this: buried in the sixth paragraph of yesterday’s editorial about Standard and Poor’s, the Post dismisses the idea of a “clean vote” saying it’s “unrealistic as a political matter” because “you couldn’t get enough Republican votes in the House to increase the debt limit without some spending cuts attached.”
Well, I guess that’s that. The Republicans have rattled their slingshot and the Post editorial page has fled for the hills.
What’s even more galling is that you needed look no further than the front page of yesterday’s Post to see just how political the issue has become for Republicans. There, Philip Rucker told the sad story of Arizona freshman Republican Rep. David Schweikert. Schweikert concedes that failing to raise the debt ceiling will cause economic chaos, but then he surveys the angry faces of his Tea Party constituents in town hall after town hall and wrings his hands. Destroying the economy on one hand and lessening my chances for reelection on the other...oh what is a Republican to do! [Check out political cartoons about the economy.]
Here’s an idea: suck it up and do the right thing. Vote for the bill and, if you lose your re-election, well, at least you have the comfort of knowing that you didn’t help ruin the world’s economy. Isn’t that what we say we want from our leaders? To take tough votes and put aside personal, ideological, or political goals when the nation’s interest calls for it?
Of course, as much as I would like to think otherwise, my saying so probably won’t encourage Republicans to do much of anything. If only there were an influential, well-respected, credible voice with a broad reach whose job it was to offer opinions like that... Sigh.
Perhaps not all is lost. In the aforementioned Simpsons episode the aliens are eventually vanquished when Moe the bartender hammers a nail through a board and chases them with it. There are a couple months to go in this debate. There’s still time for the Post to find its spine. Someone get them a nail and a board.