When the Tea Party Express's Shea King told a likeminded Wisconsin crowd that "they are blaming the credit downgrade on the Tea Party," her audience erupted in proud cheers. Why? Because the Tea Party, like Harold Camping's now-disappointed followers who bought his promise that the Apocalypse would happen in May, have been preaching about the coming doomsday for some time now: America is on the verge of collapse and new leadership is needed to (at best) change course before it's too late or (more likely) deal with the aftermath. The more bad news only confirms these convictions. Who can blame them for cheering? You know those people who took Glenn Beck's advice and stocked up on gold? They can smile today.
Now in a time of actual crisis -- the weeks of brinksmanship over the debt ceiling followed by Standard & Poor's dropping the U.S.'s credit rating from AAA to AA+ -- the Tea Party is now running on a feedback loop: the more signs that the country will collapse, the more supporters they get. In the run-up to the debt crisis, Tea Partiers were arguing that we should risk immediate economic calamity by not raising the debt ceiling because of the much longer-term threat of economic calamity from overspending. As The New Yorker's James Surowiecki writes, big business--some of whose leaders funded the Tea Party in last year's elections--should fear the movement and its seeming appetite for economic destruction.
This approach may well be extended to bargaining over budget resolutions as well, with Republicans threatening a government shutdown unless they get what they want. If that sounds improbably reckless, consider that every Republican Presidential candidate except Jon Huntsman came out against the final debt-ceiling deal. Even if you explain this as pandering to Tea Party voters, there's no ignoring the fact that these candidates were advising congressional Republicans to let the United States default. Once games of chicken become the accepted way to resolve budget issues, the U.S. economy will become a much riskier place.
- It cuts spending on infrastructure, research, and defense.
- It made clear that there will be no stimulus spending to help prevent recession.
- It makes it even less likely the Federal Reserve will loosen up its monetary policy.
- Its austerity policies will hurt rich people, who now get so much of their income from jobs and the stock market.
Surowiecki concludes, "The grim truth is that, at this point, we'd be better off if the House Republicans really were the handmaidens of corporate America, rather than ideologues who prefer crisis to compromise. As it is, the G.O.P. has put our money where their mouth is."
"S&P made it crystal clear that brinksmanship over the debt ceiling was the reason for the downgrade, and Republicans not only provoked the brinksmanship and bragged about it for months, but have since gleefully promised to repeat their performance at every opportunity. And yet they're now insisting that this is all Obama's fault. It's a display of chutzpah that's shameless even by their standards."
The dream of realignment... inspires politicians to claim sweeping mandates from highly contingent victories: think of Dick Cheney insisting on another round of deficit-financed tax cuts in 2003 because "we won the midterm elections' and "this is our due," or the near-identical rebukes that President Obama delivered to Eric Cantor ("Elections have consequences--and Eric, I won") and to John McCain ("the election's over") during the debates over the stimulus and health care.The losers, meanwhile, wax intransigent, while hoping for a realignment of their own. After all, why cut a deal today if tomorrow you might overthrow your rivals permanently?
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.