Romancing the mob

    Imagine this scenario: Your house is surrounded by a mob of fanatics who are intent on blowing it up. Then, at the very last minute, you get word that some sort of deal has been struck, that the fanatics have somehow been persuaded to pack up their explosives and go away. And you breathe an immense sigh of relief.Such is what passes for governance in the tea-party era. What passes for a big midsummer achievement is that we won’t be allowed to blow up. In a white-knuckle showdown over whether to vote for financial ruin or vote against financial ruin (gee, that’s a tough one), the lawmakers in Washington have finally made up their minds. They have now essentially decided, “Oh all right, I guess we should vote against ruin.” Yes, people, we Americans can achieve whatever we set our minds to. We looked default right in the eye, and we emerged victorious. Let’s hit the streets to celebrate V-D Day!But here’s the fun part: Virtually all of the 2012 Republican presidential candidates who have weighed in on the debt issue have come out against the deal to raise the debt ceiling, the deal that allows Uncle Sam to keep paying his bills and hopefully retain his AAA credit rating. Put another way, they’re fine with blowing up the house.Think about that one for a moment. With the sole exception of Jon Huntsman (who backs the deal), Republican candidates – notably Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Michele Bachmann, and Newt Gingrich – still essentially insist that the debt ceiling should not be raised, despite the risk of catastrophic default, and despite the fact that raising the ceiling has been a routine bipartisan action that has occurred 78 times under presidents of both parties since 1960. One might contend that Romney and his rivals only oppose the current deal to raise the ceiling, not the concept of raising the ceiling per se – but of course that argument is a crock, because if the current deal had been voted down, there was no Plan B to prevent the first default in American history. (Referring to Romney, one business expert remarked yesterday: “To say you oppose a bill on Monday when we’re not going to have the cash to pay our bills on Wednesday is not a responsible thing to do.”) This pro-default stance definitely qualifies as the biggest Republican jaw-dropper since the May 2007 incident when three of the candidates on stage at a GOP presidential debate volunteered the news that they did not believe in evolution. But it’s easy to see what’s going on here. Led by Romney (who said yesterday, “I personally cannot support this deal”), the candidates are pandering hard for tea-party voters in the early Republican primaries. And perhaps there’s no better way for a Republican aspirant to woo the insurrectionists, to romance the mob, than to paint oneself as pro-default, as dedicated to the proposition that the economy should have been crashed in the name of ideological purity.What’s most fascinating, however, is that Romney and his rivals seem to assume that all tea-party voters are members of the mob – whereas national polls actually suggest that tea-partyers, in the aggregate, are not nearly the caricature that these candidates take them to be. A CBS News survey, conducted last month, found that 66 percent of self-described tea-party supporters wanted the congressional Republicans to compromise with the Democrats on a debt-ceiling deal; only 31 percent wanted the Republicans to hew to all their positions. As for what kind of compromise was most desired, 53 percent of tea-party supporters essentially endorsed President Obama’s stance (which, naturally, Obama abandoned) that the deal to raise the ceiling should include a deficit-reducing mix of spending cuts and (gasp) tax hikes.When the chips were down, in other words, most tea-partyers were apparently just as concerned as anyone else that a default would have wreaked havoc with their personal finances. Today, The New York Times quotes a tea-party Texan who appears to be typical: “I wanted it (the debt fight) over, one way or the other, because of the impact it would have had on the stock market. I thought they were playing with my future.”So what are we to make of these Romney-led Republican candidates who persist in endorsing default; these crisis-deniers who, given their druthers, would have preferred to play with our financial futures? Granted, campaign rhetoric is cheap and it’s easier to talk irresponsibly when you don’t have the weight of the Oval Office on your shoulders, but it’s nonetheless disturbing – and a portent of worse to come – that so many who seek to run this country would voice a scintilla of sympathy for the most extremist members of the tea-party movement, for the mob that brought explosives to your door.

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