In this extensive and brilliantly nuanced exposition of the behind-the-scenes action involved with the debt ceiling negotiations, Matt Bai examines exactly what went wrong between Boehner and Obama last July, just as they seemed to have reached consensus on tough topics such as entitlement and tax code reform. If you don’t want to read the piece in its entirety (again, it’s “extensive”), the video primer is a great place to start.
We’re all familiar with the official versions of the story submitted by Boehner and Obama. Boehner charges that a handshake agreement had been made, and that Obama reneged on the deal at the last minute having been pressure by his partisan allies. The deal had included some revenue increases by cutting tax loopholes, and had made some structural changes to entitlement spending. Obama tried to jam in some last minute tax hikes and Boehner, no longer trusting the President to negotiate in good faith, walked away.
Obama charged that the last minute revenue increases which were ultimately the undoing of the deal were not last minute at all and had always been on the table.
As the piece elucidates, it’s extremely difficult to decipher exactly what occurred behind those closed doors. But in my opinion, the real reasons for the failure aren’t all that complex after all. The debt negotiations failed because of the ever expanding plague of modern partisan dogmatism.
By dogmatism I’m referring to the entrenched positions of the two partisan bases; the “I won’t raise taxes by one cent” tea partiers versus the “I won’t cut spending by one cent” Pelosi’s. Despite the fact that it seems the American people are starving for moderation and compromise – perhaps evidenced by the initial progress Boehner and Obama made – in the end one or the other (or both) caved because the poles still rule our politics.
Bertrand Russell once noted that it’s the fools who are so sure of themselves but the wise have so many doubts. I don’t think his comments ever applied better than to our current political gridlock. The voices of wisdom who understand the nuance of both sides of the debate continue to be overpowered by those who keep resorting to their worn and tired, unwavering certainty.