Yes Mr. President, Raising the Debt Ceiling DOES Raise Our Debt

I grow weary of hearing Democrats intone that the debt ceiling — the first word of which is “debt” and the second word of which is “ceiling” — has nothing to do with the level of the debt.*  The President just said it again on TV:

“And because it’s called ‘raising the debt ceiling’ I think a lot of Americans think it’s raising our debt. It is not raising our debt. This does not add a dime to our debt.”

In a Clintonian “what the meaning of is, is” kind of way, I suppose you can justify the statement that raising the debt ceiling doesn’t increase the country’s debt.  It “merely” gives the Treasury Department permission to increase the country’s debt — and of course the Treasury will promptly do so.

Yes, raising the debt ceiling means that the government would be able to continue to pay obligations that already exist.  But it doesn’t just mean that — it also means we’ll be deeper in debt.  More debt is not the only option the government has for paying its existing obligations. Unfortunately, the alternatives are far too cumbersome to put in place by October 17, and some are arguably more harmful: raise taxes, print more money, reduce spending going forward and use those funds to service existing obligations.

I do not favor the current Tea Party strategy of tying first the continuing resolution and now the debt ceiling to the demand for defunding Obamacare.  First, as a pragmatic matter, it will not work. Second, the prospect of defaulting on Treasury bonds is scary. I examined the risks back in January, and discussed why it’s unrealistic to think the Treasury could stave off default for long by prioritizing debt payments.

A default might not be apocalyptic — damage from the 2011 credit rating reduction was tempered by the fact that everyone knew the United States still had the world’s strongest economy.  But default can’t be good, and Republicans will get the majority of the blame.

The debt ceiling law was passed in 1917, and probably should be changed.  I’m all in favor of workable mechanisms to reduce spending and indebtedness, but the debt ceiling process as it currently exists is too blunt an instrument.

The fight to reverse Obamacare can and should continue, but I expect enough Republicans will back raising the debt ceiling in time to avoid default. However, in the words of Kevin D. Williamson, “one should never underestimate the Republicans’ ability to screw up being on the right side of an issue.”

(Public domain chart via Wikipedia.  Yes, I know it only goes up to 2011 — it still shows a trend.)

* Apologies to Maureen Dowd, whose 1998 punchline was more elegant: President Clinton, she wrote, “denies that oral sex (the second word of which is sex) is sex.”

I Mourn for the Herman Cain Story That Could Have Been

The Herman Cain sex allegations just make me very sad.  I’ve deliberately avoided focusing on the issue or writing much about it, but it’s impossible to avoid the headlines.

I don’t think he’s qualified to be president, and even when he was briefly the non-Romney flavor of the week, before the accusations, I never thought there was any chance he would get the nomination.  His “9-9-9″ tax plan is a slogan masquerading as a policy proposal, and he obviously doesn’t know or care much about foreign relations — the area of a president’s duties that matters the most.

But I could see him as a cabinet secretary — maybe the Commerce Department.  Just not in a Perry administration.

I don’t know whether the sex allegations are true or not, and since he’s not going to be the nominee, I don’t feel a need to decide.  But there are too many accusers for him to shake all of them off.  Bill Clinton’s serial philandering was at least as objectionable as the accusations against Cain — but Clinton will be remembered more for his presidency than for his inability to keep his pants zipped.

Cain is going to be remembered  for the sex stuff.  I would much rather have him remembered as the Tea Party favorite who disproved the silly racism charges against that movement.

(Photo from Cain campaign website)

Pepper Spray Incident Shows Why OWS Has Less “Staying Power” Than Vietnam War Protests

I have very little use for “Occupy Wall Street” and its far-flung imitators, but even so I found the image somewhat disturbing.  A UC-Davis police officer seems to be strolling along, casually emptying a can of pepper spray toward the heads of protestors seated on the ground.

Then I mentally shrugged.   Unfortunate optics, but no real harm done.  It may have been excessive, but no matter how the police break up a demonstration, they will be criticized for the inevitable injuries and indignities.  A YouTube video helps by putting the pepper spray in the context of a broader and more calibrated use of force.

Obviously, the left has a different storyline to offer.  If you Google “pepper spray” + “Kent State” you’ll get nearly half a million results.

To be fair, nobody seems to be claiming that the UC Davis incident is “another Kent State.” (Googling “pepper spray” + “another Kent State” yields 3,970 results, but the top result says “another Kent State is unlikely”, and other results express fears of “another Kent State.”)

The 1970 Kent State shootings may have been the tipping point of the battle for public support of the Vietnam War.  The episode inspired CSN&Y’s haunting refrain of “four dead in O-hi-o,” and was captured in an iconic photo of a 14-year-old runaway screaming over the body of a dead protester.

But the differences between the two incidents only start with the fact that nobody died at UC Davis.  Taranto, who evokes “Hoovervilles” by consistently referring to the OWS protestors as “Obamavillians,”  breaks it down:

Let’s say, heaven forbid, that the Obamavillians get their “Kent State moment”–a violent climax serving as the final tipping point that convinces the majority of Americans to oppose . . . well, you see the problem. To oppose what exactly? Private property? Public order? Personal hygiene?

Exactly right. To belabor his point: During the Vietnam War, there was a straightforward, easily defined, highly achievable course of action that would meet the demands of the protestors. All the government had to do was abandon our South Vietnamese allies and get out of Southeast Asia.  Rightly or wrongly (and I tend to think it was the least-bad option), the government eventually did precisely that.

But what can be done to satisfy OWS?  Raise taxes on “the 1 percent”? Fine, but even if you assume confiscatory tax rates and no change of behavior by taxpayers, taxing “the rich” won’t do much toward closing the budget deficit — and it certainly won’t create jobs.  And no level of taxation will ever be high enough to satisfy the tax-the-rich impulse.

I haven’t blogged much about the ongoing protests;  my entire OWS oeuvre apparently consists of a passing swipe at “the aimless juvenile antics of the Occupy Wall Street crowd” in a post on an unrelated topic.  The movement hasn’t interested me — I’ve always thought its enemy was capitalism itself.  I’m a big fan of capitalism, and OWS poses no real threat to it.

My priest, a thoughtful liberal who has tugged me back before from some of my more conservative leanings, gave me a new way to think about OWS in his Sunday sermon.  After carefully stating that he was taking no position on the specific messages and tactics of the movement, he said that Occupy Wall Street can be seen as “an expression of pain.”   His point, which I hope I am capturing adequately, is that the pain is real and needs to be acknowledged.

Fair enough.  The classic right-wing response to demonstrators is to snarl “get a job” — a phrase that bristles with cruel irony during a period when it sometimes feels like 9% unemployment is settling in as the new normal.  I have my own riches-to-rags story, although both “riches” and “rags” are exaggerations. I work at a church, making about what I made in 1985 — and I thank God every day that I have a job at all, let alone one that provides the privilege of laboring for a worthy organization.

I do think the OWS crowd would do well to channel its anger in more productive ways.  Say what you will about the Tea Party, but it certainly has built something out of its initial expressions of pain:  one out of every four Republican members of the House now self-identifies as a member of the Tea Party Caucus. Somehow I don’t expect there will ever be an OWS coalition in Congress.

(Unattributed photo snatched from Eschaton.)

Another Body Blow to the “Tea Party Is Racist” Meme

Herman Cain, a Tea Party favorite

What does it mean that Herman Cain, a black candidate for President, overwhelmingly won the recent Florida straw poll with Tea Party support?

Why, it means the Tea Party is racist, of course.

Just ask Janeane Garofalo.  Garofalo, a comedian, C-list actress and wanna-be pundit, appeared on “Countdown with Keith Olbermann,” a nightly smarm-fest that landed on something called Current TV after Olbermann was fired by MSNBC.

Via Real Clear Politics, which watches Olbermann so that I don’t have to, here’s Garofalo’s analysis:

Janeane Garofalo: “Herman Cain is probably well liked by some of the Republicans because it hides the racist elements of the Republican party. Conservative movement and tea party movement, one in the same.

“People like Karl Rove liked to keep the racism very covert. And so Herman Cain provides this great opportunity say you can say ‘Look, this is not a racist, anti-immigrant, anti-female, anti-gay movement. Look we have a black man.'”

Fiendishly clever, these Tea Partyers.  You can almost hear the wheels turning in their twisted little minds.  “What’s the most effective way to camouflage my deep-seated racism?  Ha!  I’ll vote for the black guy!”

Allen West, R-Fla.

Cain’s showing continues a pattern of Tea Party support for black Republicans.  In 2010 the Tea Party helped elect two black candidates to the House of Representatives: Allen West of Florida and Tim Scott of South Carolina.  Anyone seeking to accuse the Tea Party of racism is invited to explain it first to Rep. West and Rep. Scott.

Tim Scott, R-S.C.

In a white-majority country that has already elected a black president, it’s getting harder and harder to take racism charges seriously.  The Left’s “Tea Party Racism” meme is not just lazy and false; it is corrupt.  By reflexively leveling racism charges, the Left elevates a factor that should be irrelevant into a wedge issue, and sets back the very cause it supposedly supports.

(Photos from Wikipedia)