One of the more depressing as opposed to simply infuriating aspects of the current debt debacle is the self-righteousness of self-delusion that has suffused those congressional guardians of fiscal rectitude who have been entertaining us with their impression of the Italian parliament on a particularly bad day.
In the good old days, good old fashioned American political hypocrisy at least took on an air of humorous theatricality; there was at least a wink now and then to reassure us that the emanators of hot air recognized their performance for what it was, an act expected of them, and that they didn't really believe all that stuff they were saying.
(No one, admittedly, went quite as far in this direction as Earl Long, the governor of Louisiana in the 1950s, who in the course of his campaign had liberally dispensed promises left and right. When he failed to deliver on one of his many promises — he had assured a crowd of farmers in St. Tammany Parish that if elected he would see to it that their main road was paved and widened — an irate delegation from the community arrived and demanded to see the governor. A nervous aide who had tried to hold them off finally got hold of Long, explained the situation, and pleaded with him to see the men, but the governor refused. "Well what should I tell them? After all, you did promise them the road, governor," the aide protested. "Tell 'em I lied!" shouted Long back.)
Don't expect humorous self-awareness from the current crowd of Joan of Arcs infesting the national Republican party. Having redefined "fiscal responsibility" as refusing to pay obligations one has already incurred, the Republicans long ago left the world where words and principles bear any passing relation to one another. (They gave up math earlier this year, too, repealing the former congressional rule that limited expansion of the deficit by requiring all new spending to be paid for; the new Republican rule declares that tax cuts do not add to deficits. Similarly, the current Republican formula that insists upon equating the amount the current debt limit is to be raised — again, to avoid defaulting on already-incurred obligations — with the amount that future spending is to be cut over the following 10 years — and why 10 as opposed to say, 11.74527? — is apparently based on the concept that both of these figures are numbers. By contrast, the concept that by endangering the United States' bond rating their action will add hundreds of billions of dollars to future interest costs is so far in the realm of higher mathematics that it has never been part of the GOP's discussion.)
But to return to humorless self-righteousness. Tearful Speaker John Boehner — who has the unique ability to appear lachrymose even on the printed page — after spending weeks pretending to negotiate with the White House on a compromise when he never had the votes even to deliver on his own non-compromise, declared last night in an opinion column in the conservative National Review that the White House was negotiating in "bad faith," the proof which was that all Obama could do, he said, was "criticize" him.
And, after months of generating a totally manufactured crisis, Boehner sanctimoniously pleaded that we now "end this crisis" — by which he meant the Senate and the President accede to the maximal demands (including that reliable stand-by of American cranks from time immemorial, a Constitutional amendment) insisted upon by the right-wing fringe of his party; i.e., the guys who generated this totally manufactured crisis.
The fringe, meanwhile, was oozing humorless self-righteousness to a degree that apparently alarmed even Boehner and his hateful minion Rep. Eric Cantor (another candidate for Gene Weingarten's shanda far der goyim award): members of the South Carolina GOP delegation filed out of Cantor's arm-twisting session on Thursday and into a room off the Capitol Rotunda for a prayer session, where God promptly informed them that He favored abrogating one's debts and passing a Constitutional balanced-budget amendment as well. ("I think divine inspiration already happened," explained Rep. Tim Scott (R-S.C.). "I was a 'lean no' and now I'm a 'no'" on Boehner's bill.)
(By the way, I'm still waiting for a politician to emerge from a consultation with God and announce that God had disagreed with his preexisting belief, had talked him out of it, and he had therefore changed his position. Now that would be faith worth crediting . . .)
For anyone who still desires to remain in touch with a semblance of reality, by the way, here is the most succinct depiction of the national debt and the contributors thereto I have yet seen: