The Dangerous Hi-Jinks of the GOP’s Juveniles

I’ve spent enough of my life in Washington to take its theatrics with as much seriousness as a Seinfeld episode. A large portion of what passes for policy debate isn’t at all — it’s play-acting for various constituencies. The actors know they’re acting, as do their protagonists on the other side who are busily putting on their own plays for their own audiences.

Typically, though, back stage is different. When the costumes and grease paint come off, compromises are made, deals put together, legislation hammered out. Then at show time the players announce the results – spinning them to make it seem they’ve kept to their parts.

At least that’s the standard playbook.

But this time there’s no back stage. The kids in the GOP have trashed it. The GOP’s experienced actors – House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McDonnell – have been upstaged by juveniles like Eric Cantor and Michele Bachmann, who don’t know the difference between playacting and governing. They’re in league with tea party fanatics who hate government so much they’re willing to destroy the full faith and credit of the United States. Washington has gone from theater to reality TV – a game of hi-jinks chicken that could end in a crash.

So now the GOP’s experienced actors are trying to retake the stage. They’ve set a vote Tuesday for a so-called “cut, cap, and balance” plan – featuring an immediate $100 billion-plus cut from next year’s budget and a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget.

The plan would be a disaster for the nation, of course – a cut of that magnitude when the economy is still struggling to get out of recession would plunge it back in, and a balanced-budget amendment would make it impossible to counteract future recessions with extra spending and tax cuts.

But, hey, it’s all for show. The GOP’s adults know the President would veto their cuts and they couldn’t possibly muster the two-thirds of the Senate and House needed to override the veto. Nor, obviously, do they have the two-thirds necessary to pass a constitutional amendment.

The point is to give the kids more votes they can wave in the direction of their tea party constituents. It’s hoped that the “cut, cap, and balance” plan — along with Mitch McConnell’s proposed Republican vote disapproving the President’s move to raise the debt ceiling (which the President will then veto) — will be enough to get the juveniles to raise the debt ceiling before the August 2 deadline.

“The cut, cap and balance plan that the House will vote on next week is a solid plan for moving forward,” John Boehner told reporters Friday. Translated: I hope this will be enough playacting to get their votes on the debt ceiling.

But even if it’s enough, the bigger problem remains: There’s still no back stage where the real work of governing this country can occur. At best, the vote to raise the debt ceiling kicks the can down the road only until the end of 2012. By then, if we don’t elect adults, the kids will be in charge.

About Robert Reich 545 Articles

Robert Reich is the nation's 22nd Secretary of Labor and a professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

He has served as labor secretary in the Clinton administration, as an assistant to the solicitor general in the Ford administration and as head of the Federal Trade Commission's policy planning staff during the Carter administration.

He has written eleven books, including The Work of Nations, which has been translated into 22 languages; the best-sellers The Future of Success and Locked in the Cabinet, and his most recent book, Supercapitalism. His articles have appeared in the New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal. Mr. Reich is co-founding editor of The American Prospect magazine. His weekly commentaries on public radio’s "Marketplace" are heard by nearly five million people.

In 2003, Mr. Reich was awarded the prestigious Vaclev Havel Foundation Prize, by the former Czech president, for his pioneering work in economic and social thought. In 2005, his play, Public Exposure, broke box office records at its world premiere on Cape Cod.

Mr. Reich has been a member of the faculties of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and of Brandeis University. He received his B.A. from Dartmouth College, his M.A. from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar, and his J.D. from Yale Law School.

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