The Sunday Poll: Does the federal debt ceiling vote affect you?

Shall we raise the ceiling or drain the debt?

Over the past year or so, I’ve followed many federal debates intensely. As the latest debt-ceiling crisis hit the fan this past month, I prepared for my latest immersion in worries about the end of life as we know it in America when we default on our debt, watch the dollar go into free-fall, lose our international credit rating, and all the world’s viable economies take their toys and go home, leaving us to the Great Depression II, except that now, horrible times are “the new normal”.

And then I got really, really tired just thinking about it, and instead I began secretly counting down the days until Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 premiered.

I’m young, so I haven’t had that many years of actively following federal politics. Perhaps older Americans can tell me: is the US government always in such a frenzy, or is this par for the course? I know many pundits and politicians mourn for America’s good old days, but I don’t know if they mean Colonial times, the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War, the Panic of 1873, the Spanish-American War, the influenza epidemic, World War I, Prohibition, the Great Depression, World War II, Jim Crow, the Korean War, McCarthyism, the Cold War,Vietnam, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the recession of the early 1980’s, Desert Storm, the dot com bubble, 9/11, or something more recent, like Hurricane Katrina, Iraq, Afghanistan, the housing bubble, the ’08 market crash, the Gulf oil spill, or Libya.

Right now, I’m inclined to believe that after a few weeks of grave ultimatums and selfish, polarizing political posturing by legislators desperate to woo their most extreme constituents and stay in office above all else, the crucial vote will magically come through just before the deadline and then the world will go on. So why should I worry about it?

Perhaps this is the whole problem with America – worn-out citizens like me just waiting for the latest partisan crisis to pass. Am I the only one who can’t bring herself to follow the latest debt-ceiling debate in depth?

 

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2 Comments

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  1. I’m no Donald Mills. Nor am I American. But I won’t let any of that stop me from acting like I know everything. You pose very good questions that require big answers. I’ll try (and fail) to answer them in as little space as possible.

    1) It’s true the US government is always in some frenzy or another. Government is all about debating important issues and, as an empire, the American government has its hand in almost everything that goes on in the world. So, things will naturally get heated sometimes.

    However, it’s very safe to say the frenzies used to be less frenzied. The pace of yesteryear was far more relaxed and deliberate. There were ebbs and flows. There was time to think, negotiate and come to agreements. Things weren’t nearly so immediate and as permanently hostile as they are now.

    Back then, politicians communicated with letters, read books, and even dined together without stabbing each other. Today, politicians fire off vicious Tweets that get read and discussed on live 24 hour “news” channels which show little more than political Ultimate Fighting. To generate more revenue, the profit hungry media turns everything into “The most important thing ever!” The speed of modern communications technology has made meaningful, intelligent, communication almost impossible. That’s why every discussion is so blunt and so hostile. Everyone’s mind is frazzled. A frazzled mind is a hostile mind, a mind that makes poor decisions.

    These are major reasons why things appear, and actually are, worse.

    2) The Debt Ceiling is the oddest debate in decades. The very concept of a self-imposed “debt ceiling” is a very strange thing. How can you put a limit on money you’ve ALREADY spent? Besides, debtors don’t cap their debt, the creditors do by cutting them off.

    Another strange thing is the media coverage. It is extremely rare such a bland, un-sexy, thing gets this kind of coverage, no matter how important. I guess the reason the media covers this (and not some cute missing white girl) is the Countdown to Armageddon angle. That kind of hyperbole sells.

    But this is not an Armageddon moment. It’s more like that pesky slow leak on the Titanic. Unfortunately, our sick political culture has turned it into a game of Russian Roulette where the public is the only who might catch a bullet. As usual, the two sides are using an issue to battle for ideological dominance and don’t care how badly others are harmed in the process. (Both sides are doing it here, but the Republicans are more committed.) So, what started as a “regularly scheduled event” (the debt ceiling must have been raised at least 20 times since 1980) has been turned into an actual crisis by the high-profile bickering.

    But the overarching problem is of vital, long term, importance to the pockets of all Americans. America & the Americans within it, are broker than a wooden toy at ground zero in Hiroshima, circa 1945. America/ns spend FAR, FAR, more than they make. What makes it truly serious is that job prospects are diminishing as the debt stacks up, with interest! Few realize it, but the game has really been over for a while.

    America should be figuring out where it’s going to live when the house inevitably gets repossessed. Instead, Americans act like they just won the lottery and continue to blow money on every new play-toy. Meanwhile, the folks in Washington are more interested in today’s “victory” than national survival. Rome is burning and America is a nation of fiddling Neros.

    Baring a miracle, the American Empire is destined for a big fall. The only questions left are how hard, how fast and how far. Over the next few decades, America will settle somewhere between a has-been like Britain and a Somalia-esque basket case.

    Other than its impressive capacity for violence, the ONLY thing keeping America afloat is the great reputation it once had. That reputation is all that stands between America and 3rd world status. But that reputation takes a beating every day the debt ceiling debate continues. While defaulting may only have immediate negative impacts on government employees, old people, food stamp recipients & such, it may go down as the day America lost its reputation. That day is the point of no return.

    America is truly in dire straights when it can’t even resolve such a simple, largely theoretical, problem. Such debates only hasten its demise and makes me think America will wind up closer to Somalia than Britain. A nation full of desperate people with guns is usually a pretty dangerous place. America has shown itself to be pretty dangerous in the best of times.

    3) Given the hostile climate and its near inescapably, burnout & apathy is natural. It’s totally understandable to want to stick your head in the mind numbing, escapist, sand like an ostrich. Unfortunately, it only makes it easier for the predators to get you.

    Strategic retreat. Keep informed and vote with your ballot & your money. But don’t get too emotionally involved because, at the end of the day, America is still going down the toilet.

    My advice is to buy good agricultural land, build a fortress around it and train in hand-to-hand combat. Sadly, I’m only half-kidding.

    • Sometimes I think I clock out temporarily on coverage of certain issues precisely because if I paid attention all the time, I’d become as pessimistic as you seem to be. A lot of what you say is true. Every once in awhile, though, I get a glimpse of hope, not necessarily from our government, but from my fellow citizens. I took a train ride today between Philadelphia and Washington DC, and engaged the man sitting next to me, because I like talking to strangers. He was reading a political scientist’s book about Obamacare with rapt attention, making notes on a pad of paper. He said he wanted to understand it all in a way that wasn’t a sound-bite. Recently, on the job as a local reporter, I covered a state representative’s town hall meeting. The room was full of people of all ages and races with cogent, fiery questions, and the representative stayed for hours, talking to everyone who had an issue. When there still are Americans who are so engaged in the progress of our government and policy, I can’t help but hope that the US’s future isn’t all doom and gloom.

      Your point about the wall-to-wall coverage of the debt ceiling vote is interesting – very true that such a thing typically wouldn’t get so much attention. But who can resist news of armageddon?

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, especially since you’re not an American, as you say. I always try to be aware that many of my readers are not from the US, and it’s alway great to get an international perspective.

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