Monday, April 18, 2011

Behind the Debt Limit Din

The noise level, as always, is high but whispers of sanity can be heard.

"What leaders don’t want to replicate," blogs New York Times' Richard Harwood, "is the brinksmanship that left the federal government within an hour of shutting down. On the debt limit, suspense itself could produce the falling confidence and rising interest rates that business and government both want to avoid."

But the barrier to bipartisan agreement is ideological posturing, Republican lust to tear down entitlements vs. Democratic desire to save as much of the social safety net as possible--an honest difference in values run amok.

In this climate, missing is the traditional influence of the "American ruling class," as E. J. Dionne describes it: "(T)he informal networks of the wealthy and powerful who often wield at least as much influence as our elected politicians accepted that their good fortune imposed an obligation: to reform and thus preserve the system that allowed them to do so well. They advocated social decency out of self-interest (reasonably fair societies are more stable) but also from an old-fashioned sense of civic duty. 'Noblesse oblige' sounds bad until it doesn’t exist anymore."

But politicians today, as much beholden to the 24/7 media din as wealthy patrons, are in a dilemma as Paul Krugman observes that "the two parties don’t just live in different moral universes, they also live in different intellectual universes...So when pundits call on the parties to sit down together and talk, the obvious question is, what are they supposed to talk about? Where’s the common ground?"

The common ground is survival of the American economy and, as Standard & Poor's lowers its outlook to negative, spooking global investors, Congress had better rush to loftier positions to escape an oncoming financial tsunami.

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