Time for a 'This is Bullshit' Speech?

Years ago I saw this headline in The Onion: "AMISH GIVE UP. 'This is Bullshit,' Elders Say."

It may be time for President Obama to give a "This is bullshit" speech about the debt-ceiling negotiations. Merrill Goozner has done an item worth noticing. It's a proposed Presidential Address next week about the folly of Congress failing to authorize an increase in the debt ceiling, to pay for programs and tax cuts that Congress has already voted to enact. The speech begins:

>>"My fellow Americans. It is my sad duty to report that the House of Representatives, having voted over many years to establish this vast enterprise we call the federal government, which touches each one of our lives, has under its new leadership decided not to pay for the programs it voted to create. I now must carry out my constitutional duties, which are twofold. I must honor the commitment that the United States government has made to millions of lenders here at home and abroad. And, I must carry out the programs that Congress has voted to create.

"Unfortunately, Congress' failure to raise the debt ceiling means there is insufficient money to do both. Therefore, I must do the best I can with the resources at hand, while not violating the constitution..."<<

And it builds to this conclusion about the steps the President will take to ensure that the nation honors its debts, as it has despite war, depression, and strife through the preceding two centuries:

>>"I am by law required to honor the obligations of the U.S. government, which were appropriated by Congress and signed into law by me and previous presidents. Even as I am distraught beyond words at the pain the irresponsible actions of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives have brought on the American people, I must do my duty.... <<

Or more plainly, "This is bullshit." That is how it looks to all the rest of the world, and to the great majority of Americans. When it came to intervening in Libya, President Obama decided to do what he considered proper first, and worry about the Constitutional niceties second. In this instance the case for acting in the nation's interest first, and letting people complain later -- if they want, even start impeachment hearings -- is much stronger. We are talking about a wholly unnecessary shock to the worldwide economic system and to America's short- and long-term prospects, brought about by a wholly artificial debt-ceiling law. I suggest that the White House speechwriting office take a look at Goozner's draft. Maybe the President too.

Update: Erik Tarloff does a very interesting compare-and-contrast between today's debt-ceiling standoff and the government-shutdown struggle between Bill Clinton and then-Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1995. The bullshit theme appeared then too, as he points out.

Presented by

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.


A Stop-Motion Tour of New York City

A filmmaker animated hundreds of still photographs to create this Big Apple flip book


The Absurd Psychology of Restaurant Menus

Would people eat healthier if celery was called "cool celery?"


This Japanese Inn Has Been Open For 1,300 Years

It's one of the oldest family businesses in the world.


What Happens Inside a Dying Mind?

Science cannot fully explain near-death experiences.

More in Politics

From This Author

Just In