The Nauseating Debt-Ceiling 'Solution'

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I agree with Matt Miller: (needless) disaster averted, decline embraced.

>>So this is what we've driven the global economy and America's credit rating to the brink for? ...

This is the best the White House could salvage after inexplicably failing to insist that the debt ceiling be raised as part of December's deal to extend the Bush tax cuts -- which would have let the country avoid this unprecedented exercise in self-inflicted damage?

If you put aside the talking points both sides will peddle, the disappointing contours of the emerging endgame run as follows:

First, Washington will do nothing more to boost jobs and growth. The best that can be said is that the spending cuts will be tiny in the next two years, so the feds won't be contracting demand, save for the end of the stimulus. Our epic jobs crisis remains ignored.

Next -- as to long-term deficit reduction, supposedly the reason the GOP put the country through this costly fiasco -- the deal remains utterly inadequate, even if the joint congressional committee the plan would empower to address this succeeds.<<

America will no doubt muddle through, as it has done so often before. There is so much going on in this country other than public affairs -- so many of the daily details of people's lives that are promising, tender, inventive, rewarding, all for reasons that have nothing to do with national politics. It's a principle similar to the one I observed so often in China: in Beijing there might be tensions over this or that new crackdown, but in Shenzhen on Linyi or Changsha or Kunming people were having fun and dreaming big dreams.

Still, the major steering decisions in national policy make a difference in the long term. It made a difference, for the good, that the United States adopted the GI Bill, and set up the Land-Grant Universities. It made a difference, for the bad, that California passed Proposition 13. In the short run, the "bargain" just agreed to offers worse than no hope for addressing the really urgent problem of the moment, harmfully high unemployment. And in the long run, this has been as sobering a case study of a great nation misusing its resources, distracting itself from real problems, and discrediting its political system in the world's eyes as... as I can remember. No "foreign threat" has been involved here. Not a "rising power," like China. Not a "non-state menace," like some terrorist. We did this all ourselves.

I hope things will look better tomorrow.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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