People lie because lying works. There was that seminal 1979 book on lying – Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life – by the formidable Sissela Bok – the daughter of two Nobel Prize winners and married to the then-president of Harvard. She explained it’s not as simple as deciding lying is bad. Everyone says that, and it is nonsense. Little white lies and meaningless pleasantries make social life, and society itself, possible – and of course they make marriage possible. And there are big awful lies one sometimes must tell to survive in this nasty world. Gay folks used to have to tell those. Some still do. And there is everything in between those extremes, along with the usual self-serving often absurd purposeful lies told to get what you want and couldn’t otherwise get. That may be the only category of lying that is actually morally reprehensible. And of course if you tell those sorts of lies over and over, so that you eventually think what you’re saying is actually true, are you actually lying? The intention to deceive disappears if you’ve come to believe your own nonsense. You cease being a moral monster. Now you mean well. You’ve just become stupid instead. You may still be a moral monster, but at least you’re not lying.
So did Sarah Palin lie about those Death Panels, or did she truly believe the Affordable Care Act that finally did become law had a provision where granny would stand before a tribunal and be told she had to die, because granny was economically useless? No one can say. This was nonsense – all you had to do was read the thing – but one can only speculate as to whether Sarah Palin was a nasty liar or dumb as a rock. And this current Republican idea that shutting down as much of the government as possible, so its purchases of goods and services from the private economy, for a wide range of public purposes, simply comes to a halt, tossing millions out of their jobs, will make the economy thrive and be vibrant and so on, might be a lie told to advance the interests of certain parties. There are a lot of votes to be gained, among those who think they hate government, by saying such things. But a big boom in general prosperity caused by severe austerity has never occurred in any economy in history when it had been tried. The idea is that it might work this time, if we try hard enough. These guys seem to believe this. Economists do not. This too is nonsense, but is anyone lying here?
And thus we move into the realm of self-deception, and a reader pointed out this – “Big business never seems to realize that the Democrats are their real friends. They seem to overlook the fact that the economy seems to do much better when Democrats are in power.”
And now, with the debt-limit debate raging, and it’s looking more and more as if the United States will for the first time ever default on its debt obligations, there are reports all over that Wall Street, worried about the quickly worsening mess in Europe, is pressuring key Republicans – raise the damned debt limit NOW. They don’t need more chaos. No one likes the idea of crashing the markets and collapsing the world’s economy, just to make a point. And every European official is saying we’ve gone nuts. Those nutty Americans would trash their own economy and destroy the world’s – to score political points?
Well, yes, and the Wall Street guys know Boehner cannot control his caucus, so he’s useless, and Cantor really does want to bring down everything and crash the economy, because he wants to be Speaker, so all they have is McConnell, and his plan to just do it – that no one likes. Big business is slowly realizing their GOP buddies are useless – not that they like the Democrats at all. They’re… conflicted.
This is a mess, and then, inevitably, it came down to one side just calling the other side liars:
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) accused both the president and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) of misleading the American people about the need to increase the debt limit by Aug. 2, saying on Wednesday advisers to the president are lying about the urgency of raising the debt ceiling.
“The speaker is getting bad advice,” Gohmert said at a press conference. “I guess the problem with the speaker and him saying that [the debt limit needs to be raised by Aug. 2] is that he listened to the president. I’ll urge the speaker not to believe the president anymore.”
There’s plenty of money. The economists are wrong. The bond rating agencies are wrong. The data from the Treasury and the CBO is wrong. The worried investors on Wall Street are wrong. The heads of all the world’s central banks are wrong. And certainly the president is wrong. Everyone has been lying about this – all of them, each and everyone one of them. Later in the day Michele Bachmann came out and said Obama has been flat-out lying to the American people about all of this, and he’s nothing but a liar.
What is one to make of this? Whether she believes this or not – no one can possibly say – it’s not a bad campaign strategy for Bachmann. Now the press has to treat this as a he-said she-said controversy, and not take sides, and thus say both sides could be right – it’s not for them to say. The press must be careful. And it’s not a bad campaign strategy in general, and spreading fast, as Carl Hulse of the New York Times reports here:
If President Obama thought he could rattle House Republicans with his warning on Tuesday that Social Security checks might get held up in the event the debt limit was not raised soon, he was mistaken.
“That’s not leadership; that is sad and pathetic,” said Representative Allen West, a freshman Republican representing thousands of Social Security recipients in South Florida. He said the president and the Treasury secretary could pay pressing federal obligations out of money still coming in, and if they say they cannot, “Then they are liars.”
And Hulse puts this in a larger perspective:
Mr. West is no outlier in the House Republican majority, where distrust of the Obama administration runs deep and warnings of economic Armageddon do not seem to be moving lawmakers toward a compromise. Instead, many Congressional Republicans seem to be spoiling for a fight, calculating that some level of turmoil caused by a federal default might be what it takes to give them the chance to right the nation’s fiscal ship.
“I certainly think you will see some short-term volatility,” said Representative Austin Scott of Georgia, the president of the freshman class. “In the end, the sun is going to come up tomorrow.”
Well, you cannot argue with that. The sun will come up tomorrow. Austin Scott is NOT lying. But beyond the sun coming up, the rest is a crap-shoot, and Scott, unlike Bachmann, says there actually could be a major economic crisis, but it would be short-term, and kind of fun and useful.
That’s acknowledging the reality here. Obama may not be lying. And Matthew Yglesias offers this:
My guess is that this kind of extremism may end up backfiring. If the bulk of House Republicans refuse to accept an 85:15 division between spending cuts and revenue increases, then as Zero Hour approaches a “clean” debt ceiling with neither spending cuts nor tax hikes becomes more likely. The whole game here has many layers to it. Mitch McConnell’s weird gambit yesterday is a reminder that on one level the GOP objective is simply to force Democrats to make a “tough” vote to raise the debt ceiling. A different game is the one the White House is playing in which they actively want to reach a deficit reduction deal and prefer steep spending cuts to a clean increase as long as the cuts are paired with revenue increases.
But if the Austin Scotts of the world aren’t ready to take yes for an answer, then this cavalier notion that creating an economic cataclysm is somehow going to advance their goals doesn’t make much sense.
And that brings us back to the interested onlookers, big business, and Jonathan Chait notes here that if Republicans block a debt-ceiling increase before August 2 then “The business elite will decide that the Republicans are dangerous and must be stopped.”
He sees it this way:
The overview of the Republican position right now is that the overwhelming majority of Republicans do not want to cut a deal with President Obama to reduce the deficit in return for raising the debt ceiling. They don’t want this deal even if it’s very friendly to their ideological position. The split is over what to do instead. The craziest House Republicans (and Mitt Romney) want to continue holding the debt ceiling hostage until Obama gives them total capitulation, like a balanced budget amendment. Mitch McConnell just wants to lift the thing and stick Democrats with the vote. The constituency for any remotely plausible policy bargain seems vanishingly small.
The interesting thing with McConnell is the political calculation, because that’s the only kind of calculation McConnell usually engages in. A bipartisan deal to lift the debt ceiling would help Obama to position himself in the center and assuage some fears about debt and big government. But what about adopting the crazy House republican position, holding out for total victory and precipitating a default crisis?
Chait then cites political scientist John Sides arguing that McConnell really could be pushing for that:
Assume there is no deal and then assume, as Geithner and others have warned, that there are serious consequences for the economy when the debt ceiling isn’t raised. This will hurt Obama. And it will hurt him more than it will hurt the Republican Party. Presidents suffer the consequences of a bad economy. Divided government does not change this. Beware pundits who see silver linings for Obama in this scenario.
But McConnell himself does not see it that way at all, and in McConnell’s view a debt ceiling standoff would have everyone blaming Republicans:
“We knew shutting down the government in 1995 was not going to work for us. It helped Bill Clinton get reelected. I refuse to help Barack Obama get reelected by marching Republicans into a position where we have co-ownership of a bad economy,” McConnell said. “It didn’t work in 1995. What will happen is the administration will send out to 80 million Social Security recipients and to military families and they will all start attacking members of Congress. That is not a useful place to take us. And the president will have the bully pulpit to blame Republicans for all this disruption.”
And Chait thinks Sides is over-relying on the data:
Yes, historically, voters blame the president for a bad economy, even if divided government has blocked the president’s agenda. But how many historical examples can we find of the opposition party engaging in high profile acts of economic destruction?
Well, there is that, and there’s the business community. They’re not dumb. And Chait points out that Kevin Drum has a correspondent who offers some perspective on that:
I spoke to some (very) conservative investment bankers yesterday on some deals we are handling and asked about the debt ceiling as an aside. They were very concerned about the ceiling and seemed very favorable to McConnell’s offer. Europe is really, really spooking the investment community. Thus, they would like to tamp down the uncertainty here in the hopes that some sense of normalization here will help the sanity over there and otherwise across the board.
They said it was common knowledge that McConnell was taking very serious back-channel heat from Wall Street because the conclusion was that there was no reliable leadership in the House with Boehner unable to control his caucus and Cantor making his leadership play now. They view Boehner as out. In other words, McConnell is Wall Street’s only viable player and so he is taking all the calls. And those calls are not saying to insist upon cuts-only come hell or high water. They are saying raise the F-ing ceiling NOW.
It seems highly plausible to imagine that, if the Republicans block a debt ceiling increase, that the public will turn on them. The business elite will decide that the Republicans are dangerous and must be stopped. Obama will use his bully pulpit to explain to the public that the Republicans have forced withholding of entitlement payments and the closing of vital government services. Quite possibly, this effect could overwhelm any actual economic ramifications. I know the models say the economy will be all that counts. That could be right. But the models have never seen anything like this before.
This is uncharted territory, and all we have is folks calling each other liars about what happens next.
But as Steve Benen notes, the business community is not happy:
It wasn’t too long ago that sixty-two leading U.S. business groups, including the American Gas Association, the Telecommunications Industry Association, and the National Association of Manufacturers, all pleaded with Congress to end the standoff and raise the debt ceiling. “With economic growth slowly picking up we cannot afford to jeopardize that growth with the massive spike in borrowing costs that would result if we defaulted on our obligations,” the groups said. “It is critically important that the United States stands fully behind its legal obligations.”
That was two months ago today. Ordinarily, the allegedly “pro-business” Republican Party would have taken this seriously, but instead, GOP leaders ignored the pleas.
So, business leaders are being forced to ask a little louder.
Benen does point out that Obama, at his press conference this week, was asked about working with business leaders to “lobby Congress to raise the debt ceiling.” And Obama carefully explained that he’s spoken “extensively” to the business community, but he knows they don’t like to push Congress publicly, even if they agree with Obama privately – “They’ve got a whole bunch of business pending before Congress and they don’t want to make anybody mad.”
Well, now that just changed:
A sprawling coalition of Wall Street and Main Street business leaders sent an unmistakable message to lawmakers Tuesday: Enough squabbling. Get the debt ceiling raised.
The message, sent in a letter to President Obama and every member of Congress, puts pressure on GOP lawmakers, who have staked out an uncompromising stance against raising taxes in the partisan wrangling over the country’s borrowing limit.
Republicans rely heavily on corporations for political support and have regularly cited the opinions of these “job creators” in their opposition to new tax revenue. Many of the House GOP freshmen most opposed to a compromise were swept into office with the help of financial support from groups behind the letter.
But the business community, which has largely kept quiet on the issue until now, does not uniformly share the Republican orthodoxy on taxes, according to some lobbyists who helped craft the statement.
Benen puts it this way:
The businesses involved in this effort didn’t present a blueprint for a possible debt-reduction plan, and were silent on revenues or cuts-to-savings ratio. The reason is simple: they don’t much care. The corporate leaders just want Congress to raise the debt ceiling; how members get to “yes” is irrelevant.
In this case, the letter was “signed by hundreds of senior company executives and groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable.”
So, let’s see. Wall Street wants Republicans to stop screwing around. The business community wants Republicans to stop screwing around. Global investors want Republicans to stop screwing around. The Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department want Republicans to stop screwing around.
But unhinged and uninformed right-wing activists want Republicans to keep pushing their – and our – luck. As of this morning, the congressional GOP is only listening to the activists.
And they’re calling the president and Wall Street and the business community and global investors and the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department all liars. Is that wise?
And with this pressure on Congress from the US Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable to resolve this mess quickly, Steven L. Taylor, writing at the center-right Outside the Beltway, sees something odd going on here:
What this underscores yet again is that most people who understand the situation also understand that the debt ceiling has to be raised. The only people who seem not to understand this are a faction of ideologues in the GOP, a gaggle of talk show hosts, and a smattering of bloggers and blog commenters.
I have not seen a serious economist (regardless of philosophical predilections) or really anyone I would consider serious/informed about this topic who thinks otherwise…. I find all of this interesting as well because it seems to speak to a serious internal identity crisis within the GOP at the moment. The Republicans are allegedly the party of business, yet they have created uncertainty in the economy over their game of chicken and have now forced some of their allies to speak publically.
People lie because lying works – but sometimes it doesn’t. Or maybe they believe their own lies. But Benen suggests that doesn’t matter much now:
I realize that the Republican Party’s leadership fully accepts the fact that the debt ceiling has to be raised, and I’m glad. But as has become painfully clear of late, members of the leadership are no longer doing the leading; they’re doing the following.
I agree with Taylor that we’re talking about “a faction of ideologues in the GOP, a gaggle of talk show hosts, and a smattering of bloggers and blog commenters” who appear to have gone completely mad, but it’s worth emphasizing that this group just happens to dictate the outcome of most key votes in the House of Representatives.
And he sees the irony here:
Under the first two years of the Obama presidency, economic growth was restored, corporate profits soared, the major Wall Street indexes rocketed up, and nearly all of the job creation was limited to the private sector. The Chamber of Commerce crowd, unsatisfied, invested heavily in Republican candidates, hoping they would create a climate even more business friendly.
News flash, business community: you invested in the wrong horses.
So Chait says that if Republicans block a debt-ceiling increase before the deadline then the business elite will decide that the Republicans are dangerous and must be stopped. Benen says the business elite should have thought of this last year.
You might not want to deal with those who are either nasty liars or dumb as a rock, or just strange – Michele Bachmann’s Church Says the Pope Is the Antichrist.
Sigh. Well, at least she can tell us everyone else is lying – there’s no debt crisis, as there’s plenty of money, and the Pope really is the Antichrist. And she’s not lying, as she believes all this. And Bachmann said what we really need is not an increase in the debt ceiling but a president with a “titanium spine” – in case you were wondering. We moved beyond lying here, into an alternative universe.