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So, You Hate The Debt Ceiling Deal?

For those of you who still think Obama sold out by compromising with the Republicans (or worse, that he is a Republican), that the politics we are seeing in Washington is not the way our founding fathers intended for our country to function and marks the doom of our democracy. Well, you should read this excellent article written by Jim Wright over at Stonekettle Station.

As Benjamin Franklin often said, democracy is hard, dirty, and sometimes very ugly.

Did you know that Patrick Henry stayed away from the constitutional convention because he was convinced that the other founders were conspiring to create a new monarchy? Or that Rhode Island wanted nothing to do with a new federal government, and so didn’t even bother to send any delegates to the convention? Most people know about the great tug-of-war over slavery, which ended with a great compromise that counted slaves as less than human.

The discussions over our constitution were fierce, involved lots of shouting, and occasionally fist fights broke out. In the end, almost one third of the delegates refused to sign the resulting constitution; they disliked it that much. Thirteen of the delegates even walked out rather than be there for the final ceremony because they considered it a failure. And afterwards, the founders had to patch up the constitution by adding 10 amendments to it (now known as the Bill of Rights) even before the original document was signed.

In the end, Franklin summed it up:

There are several parts of this Constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them. I doubt too whether any other Convention we can obtain may be able to make a better Constitution.

That’s right, it was compromise. Dirty stinking compromise. Love it or not, that’s how our government works. You think the Tea Party is crazy? Think about the fights over slavery, which ended up in bloody civil war. If we survived that, surely we can survive supply side economics.



  1. john haskell wrote:

    Just for the record, Obama didn’t compromise with the Republicans. Are there any tax increases in the deal? Okay then.

    Saturday, August 13, 2011 at 11:26 am | Permalink
  2. David Freeman wrote:

    Right now, supply side economics is the least of my fears. Did you hear Perry’s speech?! Talk about divorced from reality … he is #$&!* crazy! He makes me nostalgic for compassionate conservative Bush.

    Although not happy with Obama’s recent performance, I don’t really disagree with the main points of this post. I sure hope we don’t have to prove that we can survive a civil war again.

    Saturday, August 13, 2011 at 12:19 pm | Permalink
  3. ZJD wrote:

    That article was… okay. Honestly, I think his most interesting point was about mythologizing history. I’ve been ruminating on this topic quite a bit lately, and he hit the nail on the head:

    “That’s the thing with myths. They’re neat and tidy, shiny and simple. Myths are made to inspire, to teach, to caution, to remind, to fit into a patriotic picture or into a single paragraph in a grade school history book. That’s the problem with myths, they’re little more than a hollow mask, a shell, shaped to fit whatever particular agenda suits the current generation.”

    We mythologize history and thus do not understand the past. More importantly, we are ill equipped to understand the present, and this is where I think the article went off track. Here’s the problem: it is a massive false equivalency to compare those delegates of the American colonies then and our elected politicians today. Certainly there are analogies, lessons to be had in compromise and settlement, but our current predicament is so different from theirs that it renders the whole topic almost meaningless. Why?

    I think of compromise as the consolidation of divergent interests. If you want to understand, well, ANYTHING in politics, you have to examine divergent interests. In this case you have to compare the interests of those state delegates almost 250 years ago and the interests that tug our political machine in different directions today. And from what little I understand about history and socioeconomics – 1776 ain’t got nothin’ on us. Sure, they had to figure out slavery and other potentially divisive issues. But ultimately they were all in the same boat: a federation of 13 little colonies on the east coast of North America. How do our divergent interests compare today? For example: at what point would a farmer in Kansas and, say, a school teacher in Wisconsin be able to compromise on a given issue? Haha, just kidding! American politics doesn’t operate in those terms. It never has. We like to think it does, but that kind of thinking results from historical mythologizing. (See how that came full circle?) It simply doesn’t track on reality.

    No, I more pertinent question would be something like this: when could a working class family and the board of directors of an international conglomerate agree on a given issue? At what point would their interests converge? That is the heart of modern political conflict. Answer that question, my friends, and you will take a step towards solving American democracy – not simply reiterating the shell game that is politics in Washington today. Unfortunately, I don’t think there is a comprehensive answer to that question.

    Lastly, from the article: “The extremists on both side are damned near apoplectic with rage. Some of them might have fatal strokes as a result. But for the rest, well, you know who they are now. You know who the uncompromising bastards are now. If nothing else, this battle has smoked them out into the open. Now, it’s up to you, vote them the hell out of office.”

    Is anyone optimistic about this? The approval rating of Congress is at an all time low. But of who, exactly, do the American people disapprove? As evinced by the internet comments the author cites, a fair number of people are – once again –misguided in their denunciations. They don’t understand what happened; they don’t understand why it happened. And they will continue to vote – blindly, consistently, masochistically – against their own economic self interest (and ours). The American people will ultimately decide the course of this nation. We must have faith in the electorate. But ironically, it is the political body least deserving of it.

    Saturday, August 13, 2011 at 12:51 pm | Permalink
  4. Iron Knee wrote:

    ZJD, good post. Speaking to your last point, you might want to read this article in AlterNet about Roger Ailes: “How the Head of Fox News Is Making Americans More Right-Wing, More Ignorant and Ever More Terrified” —

    Saturday, August 13, 2011 at 2:16 pm | Permalink
  5. ZJD wrote:

    Already did on And it is a good article; I recommend it to people when they try to equate Fox News and other “liberal” media outlets. After all, the only way someone can argue that CNN (or even MSNBC) is the liberal mirror to Fox News is if they don’t know what Fox News is – if they ignore how it was founded and how it operates today. In other words, they can only do that if they don’t know who Roger Ailes is.

    Saturday, August 13, 2011 at 4:23 pm | Permalink
  6. starluna wrote:

    ZJD – agree on your point about the challenge of getting to a converging of interests. But when you say that if we were able to do this we would have taken “a step towards solving American democracy” it sounds like you are framing American democracy as the problem. I have not read the article, and maybe that is how this is all framed. But do you really believe that American democracy is the problem?

    Saturday, August 13, 2011 at 5:28 pm | Permalink
  7. oregonbird wrote:

    Funding for education destroyed. SocSec and Medicare next – there is *no* doubt of that. Unions disenfranchised. Jobs “at-will”. Scientists gagged and imprisoned. (That one just freaks me out.) Trillions more given to banks than ever admitted. No attempt by administration to recommit to reality-based agenda. And it just isn’t a compromise when one side gets to keep all the beans. And that side ain’t ours.

    Saturday, August 13, 2011 at 6:32 pm | Permalink
  8. ZJD wrote:

    STARLUNA – Yes and no. Our democracy is fine insofar as it is an actual democracy. But we’ve been trending in the past few decades towards a plutocracy/kleptocracy/oligarchy – whatever you want to call it – a form of government in which political influence is proportional to material wealth and the advantaged subvert the system at the expense of everyone else. This is the ‘board of directors vs. working class family’ example I mentioned.

    Business is important, don’t get me wrong. I bought this laptop from HP and couldn’t be more satisfied. But we have to recognize when our interests do not align with those of corporations, and we have to adjust the balance of power accordingly. Right now – what with lobbyists and campaign donations and revolving door opportunities and outsourcing – the game is rigged against us.

    Saturday, August 13, 2011 at 7:44 pm | Permalink
  9. starluna wrote:

    ZJD – I didn’t think that you had thought that American democracy was itself a problem. I just wanted to make sure. I agree that the trends over the past 30-40 years have not been good. But I have a lot of hope. I work with grassroots organizers and its amazing what can happen when people start flexing their power. I’ve seen inner city middle and high school kids convince one of our major hospitals to do diesel retrofits its entire fleet and require all contractors to diesel retrofit their vehicles within 5 years. This same group also convinced one of the major corporate trash haulers for the Boston region to do the same. They did it by doing exactly what you are suggesting. The kids did their research, met with the heads of these organizations, and showed them where their interests converge (we want less asthma, you want to save money; we can make that happen).

    Other things are harder. I’ve found that it’s not as hard to work with business people, at least for the kinds of things I tend to work on. It’s suburban people who are the biggest obstacle to some of the policy goals of the folks I work with. One of those groups has a serious proposal for a low cost ($10) and easily accessible Youth Pass for public transit. The opposition to the idea is almost entirely from suburban commuters who don’t want to subsidize “those” kids from getting some “entitlement” while they pay $4 to park their SUV at the commuter rail station (as opposed to $25-40 downtown). It’s this kind of selfishness that I find to be the most problematic.

    Saturday, August 13, 2011 at 10:40 pm | Permalink
  10. Rob wrote:

    If you still think people are mad because Obama “compromised”, you aren’t listening. The article you linked is just a massive straw man attacking a premise that, I hope, most people know. the “good old days” weren’t.

    we’re made because the democrats don’t compromise, they cave. Compromise gets concessions out of the other side. the only things “conceded” by the republicans in the last round of what you could laughingly call a “negotiation” were things so extreme even the republican mainstream couldn’t support it, and the final detail was further to the right than what the aforementioned republican mainstream asked for to begin with.

    that is not compromise. that is pathetic negotiating skills.

    Tuesday, August 16, 2011 at 10:56 am | Permalink
  11. Arthanyel wrote:

    Rob: I think you are overstating the case. The Republicans agree to defer any immediate cuts (the first traunch are reductions in future spending increases) and they agreed to a committe to come up with the next raunch – which can include revenue increases. And if they don’t make a deal, then 50% of the cuts come from defense – and NOTHING touches Social Security, Medicare, unemployment, or any of the safety net programs.

    That’s not a “cave” to the Republicans. That’s making a deal as close as possible to what you want, that can get approved – and it almost didnt get approved in the House. Anything more one sided – either way – would never have passed. It is not pathetic negotiating skills at play, it’s Obama understanding that if he held out for anything more then we really would default and in the mean time he sets the stage for getting a better solution.

    It is sad that the debt ceiling deal represents the “best” that can be done with the current Congress, but we have to face the sobering reality that is IS the best deal that can pass the current Congress.

    And try to fix the Congress.

    Tuesday, August 16, 2011 at 5:48 pm | Permalink