Monday, October 07, 2013

One of us doesn't understand what "blackmail" means...

I've read lamer commentary on the government shutdown than this piece by Nicholas Kristof, but most of it has been in painfully stupid Facebook memes.

To start with, he opens with the absolute mother of all tortured analogies.
Unless Republicans agree to my proposal for gun control, I will use my authority as commander in chief to scuttle one aircraft carrier a week in the bottom of the ocean.

I invite Republican leaders to come to the White House and negotiate a deal to preserve our military strength. I hope Republicans will work with me to prevent the loss of our carrier fleet.

If the Republicans refuse to negotiate, I will be compelled to begin by scuttling the U.S.S. George Washington in the Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench, with 80 aircraft on board.


In that situation, we would all agree that Obama had gone nuts. Whatever his beefs with Republicans, it would be an inexcusable betrayal to try to get his way by destroying our national assets. That would be an abuse of power and the worst kind of blackmail.
I love analogies. I use them whenever I can come up with a good one. But argument by analogy only works if the similarities between the analogy and the analogized situations are more relevant than the differences. In this case, the similarities (two sides disagree about a political issue) are dwarfed by the differences. Aircraft carriers have no relevance to gun control; the so-called "Affordable Care Act" that the Republicans are trying to defund has everything to do with the budget. And comparing the wanton, pointless destruction of military hardware to an attempt by legislators to change the law is preposterous.

So the analogy does not work, on any level. (I've written analogies that tortured before, but I hope that I've never published one.)

And in that kind of situation, I would hope that we as journalists wouldn’t describe the resulting furor as a “political impasse” or “partisan gridlock.”


Let's see - Democrat clearly at fault? Yeah, I expect that's exactly what would happen.

I hope that we wouldn’t settle for quoting politicians on each side as blaming the other. It would be appropriate to point out the obvious: Our president had tumbled over the edge and was endangering the nation.


In the tortured analogy offered, sure, that would be true. (Which is not to say I believe that's what the coverage would be.) In what follows, it would not be.

Today, we have a similar situation, except that it’s a band of extremist House Republicans who are deliberately sabotaging America’s economy and damaging our national security — all in hopes of gaining leverage on unrelated issues.


  1. They are not "deliberately sabotaging" anything. They are attempting to act in the best interests of their constituents, and the country.
  2. The "Affordable Care Act" is not unrelated to the Federal budget, or the budget deficit, or the national debt.


Point one is important. Reasonable people may reasonably differ on whether the "Affordable Care Act" is good for the country or not. But it is not prima facie unreasonable to thing that it is a) a bad law that b) will stifle health care innovation, c) while expanding the Federal deficit and d) further politicizing medical care. If you believe those things, it is furthermore not unreasonable to think that it should be stopped. And let us further recognize that many members of the House of Representatives are there specifically because the people they represent were and are opposed to that law. Obviously, we would not have the current shutdown if the Democrats still controlled the House, and there's no reason to think that, in the absence of the "Affordable Care Act," they would not still do so.

The shutdown of government by House Republicans has already cost at least $1.2 billion, with the tab increasing by $300 million a day. Some estimates are much higher than that.


Cost who what? How? The Federal Government not spending money saves the taxpayer money, does it not? So what is this "cost" that he's talking about?

The 1995 and 1996 shutdowns cost the country $2.1 billion at today’s value, and the current one is also likely to end up costing billions — a cost imposed on every citizen by House Republicans, even as members of Congress pay themselves.


Again, how, exactly, is this shutdown imposing "costs" on me? Every penny the Federal Government spends is either taxed now, so it's removed from the economy and some pittance of it comes back into the economy, or it's borrowed now, in which case it needs to be paid back later, with interest. What are these "costs" of which you speak?

The government shutdown and risk of default also undermine America’s strength around the world. It’s not just that 72 percent of the intelligence community’s civilian work force has been furloughed. It’s not simply that “the jeopardy to the safety and security of this country will increase” daily, according to James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence.


Hmm... I thought that it was only the "non-essential" workers who were off. We seem to have found enough budget for workers to barricade off national monuments and scenic vistas, to remove people from their own homes on federally leased lands. Maybe, just maybe, the executive branch should be adjusting its spending priorities.

Or maybe the part of that tortured analogy in which President Obama goes out of his way to damage national security in order to have the House of Representatives give him what he wants legislatively isn't as far-fetched as it sounds...

Nor is it just that the White House telephone number is now answered with a recording that says to call back when government is functioning again. It’s not simply that several countries have issued travel advisories about visiting America. It’s not just that we’re mocked worldwide, with the French newspaper Le Monde writing: “Jefferson, wake up! They’ve gone crazy!”


Yes, America's standing around the world has just been soaring with that stellar Obama/Biden/Clinton/Kerry foreign policy team. No missteps there, nosirree.

And Le Monde is where I always go for insight into the subleties of the American political process.

Rather, it’s that America’s strength and influence derive in part from the success of our political and economic model. When House Republicans shut our government down


House Republicans have passed bills funding the Federal Government at current levels. All of it. With the notable exception of the "Affordable Care Act." If the President were willing to accept a one-year delay on the whole of that law, not just parts of it, as he has illegally done, the shutdown could end today. But it takes two to make a deal. (Oh, drat, that kind of defeats the whole point of the article, doesn't it?)

and leave us teetering on the abyss of default,


Default? How are we "teetering on the abyss of default"? Does the treasury not have adequate funds to meet all of our required bond payments? I believe the answer to that is, "yes, it does." In which case, we only default if the Secretary of the Treasury fails to do his job.

we are a diminished nation. We have less influence. We have less raw power, as surely as if we had fewer aircraft carriers.

Some Americans think that this crisis reflects typical partisan squabbling.


Only because it represents fairly typical partisan squabbling. One way that you can tell is that all the liberal columnists are trotting out their "it isn't really typical partisan squabbling - it's all the Republicans fault" columns.

No. Democrats and Republicans have always disagreed, sometimes ferociously, about what economic policy is best, but, in the past, it was not normal for either to sabotage the economy as a negotiating tactic.


That's really compelling if you buy the premise. If you don't, it's just more noise.

In a household, husbands and wives disagree passionately about high-stakes issues like how to raise children. But normal people do not announce that if their spouse does not give in, they will break all the windows in the house.  In the past, it was not normal for either to sabotage the economy as a negotiating tactic.


And more noise.

Hard-line House Republicans seem to think that their ability to inflict pain on 800,000 federal workers by furloughing them without pay gives them bargaining chips.in the past, it was not normal for either to sabotage the economy as a negotiating tactic.


Again, the Republicans in the House have passed funding bills to pay each of those 800,000 federal workers. Those bills have been stopped in the Democratically controlled US Senate. Harry Reid, not John Boehner, is the one "inflict[ing] pain" on those federal workers.

The hard-liners apparently believe that their negotiating position is strengthened when they demonstrate that they can wreck American governance.


Would it be strengthened if they caved and gave the President everything he wanted, even though they think that would be worse for the country?

The stakes rise as we approach the debt limit and the risk of default — which the Treasury Department notes could have an impact like that of the 2008 financial crisis and “has the potential to be catastrophic.” Astonishingly, Republican hard-liners see that potential catastrophe as a source of bargaining power in a game of extortion: We don’t want anything to happen to this fine American economy as we approach the debt limit, so you’d better meet our demands.

In this situation, it strikes a false note for us as journalists to cover the crisis simply by quoting each side as blaming the other.


"So instead, we'll just quote Democrats blaming Republicans. Which is what we normally do anyway..."

That’s a false equivalency.

Actually, unlike much of what they do, it would be a true equivalency. In order to end the shutdown, the House will have to pass a bill, the Senate will have to pass it, and the President will have to sign it. So both sides have to come together to make a deal. The White House, which again, could end this today, has repeatedly said that they won't even negotiate. So it's not at all a "false equivalency" to say that both sides are playing the same game.

The last time House Republicans played politics with this debt limit, in 2011, Standard & Poor’s downgraded America’s credit rating.


And said, at the time, that the cause was concern about whether the country would get the deficit under control. Take a look at who's trying to do that, and then tell me who is using the "potential catastrophe" as a "source of bargaining power."

In the long run, that may mean higher debt payments and higher taxes. My opening example of a president scuttling naval ships was ludicrous. No one would do that.


Yeah, that would be as silly as giving tax dollars to wealthy people so we could destroy perfectly good used cars.  Who would do something that dumb?

But if we default because of extremist House Republicans, the cost could be much greater to our economy and to our national security than the loss of a few aircraft carriers.
And what if we default because we keep adding entitlement programs for which we cannot make the payments?  How will that be for the economy and national security? 

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