Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Good Thought, Disregarded

All indications are that Bill Clinton admires President Obama and he has been quite supportive of the latter, though it could hardly be otherwise when the wife of the former President is a cabinet secretary in the Obama administration. Funny how that works out.

True to form, in an interview with The National Memo's Joe Conason, Clinton criticized the congressional GOP for threatening to block a debt ceiling increase because "Well, we won the last election and we didn’t vote for some of that stuff, so we’re going to throw the whole country’s credit into arrears." When he faced off against House Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1995 and the GOP considered (but rejected) using the debt ceiling as a tactic, Clinton notes, he commissioned an evaluation among legal experts of the constitutionality of ignoring the ceiling and plunging ahead. Despite- or because of- the wide range of views among the legal scholars, Conason reports,

Former President Bill Clinton says that he would invoke the so-called constitutional option to raise the nation’s debt ceiling “without hesitation, and force the courts to stop me” in order to prevent a default, should Congress and the President fail to achieve agreement before the August 2 deadline.

President Obama already had decided against invoking the Fourteenth Amendment, despite the House's eagerness to refuse to pay for appropriations already approved. Besides recommending a strategy already rejected by the current President, Clinton added

The reason that raising the debt limit is so unpopular is that people think you’re voting to keep [increasing] deficit spending, instead of voting to honor obligations that were already incurred. I think [the Gingrich Republicans] figured I’d be smart enough to explain to the American people that they were refusing to pay for the expenses they had voted for when Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush were president. And that would make ‘em look bad.

The American people, as Clinton apparently understands, mistakenly believe that Congress is considering increasing deficit spending "instead of voting to honor obligations that were already incurred." Now if only we had a President who knew how to communicate to audiences- someone who, for instance, might have inspired people with such as:

You will be tested. You won't always succeed. But know that you have it within your power to try. That generations who have come before you faced these same fears and uncertainties in their own time. And that through our collective labor, and through God's providence, and our willingness to shoulder each other's burdens, America will continue on its journey towards that distant horizon, and a better day. (Boston, June 2, 2006)

Today we come to celebrate not a building but a man. And as that man called once upon the better angels of our nature, so is he calling still, across the ages, to summon some measure of that character, his character, in each of us, today. (Springfield, Illinois, 2005)

Well, I say to them tonight, there's not a liberal America and a conservative America there's the United States of America. There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America. (Boston, 7/27/04)

Somehow, that President hasn't seen fit to explain that we're not a deadbeat nation. We've already incurred the debts and have done so through a constitutional process that reflects the will of the American people through their democratically-elected representatives.

It would not be difficult for President Obama to evoke some of that stirring rhetoric and arouse the national audience to a recognition that a refusal to raise the debt ceiling would roil national, and probably international, markets and raise interest rates for the government, businesses, and consumers.

He could do that but has chosen not to do so. Opposition by voters to lifting the limit emboldens Republicans, the vast majority of whom want deep cuts- and thereby strengthens the hand of a President who also favors spending reductions. And when those cuts ensue, he can boast in them to Republican and independent voters while telling his base that his hand was forced, which Matt Taibbi characterizes as "an increasingly transparent lie."

Bill Clinton's advice is wise, but Barack Obama simply has different goals than the 42nd President or most of his party.

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Overwrought Reaction

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