You Think the Right Won't Push America to Default? Think Again
Many commentators remain complacent about the debt ceiling; the very gravity of the consequences if the ceiling isn't raised, they say, ensures that in the end politicians will do what must be done. But this complacency misses two important facts about the situation: the extremism of the modern G.O.P., and the urgent need for President Obama to draw a line in the sand against further extortion.
...what scares me is the strong possibility that a large percentage of Republicans in Congress have come to believe their own rhetoric about the debt limit: that somehow it just doesn't matter. That default is an acceptable option. What scares me is that epistemic closure among Republican leaders is very real, and very difficult to puncture.
It amazes me that people still have a hard time accepting the notion that Republicans really might force the U.S. government to default. But why wouldn't they? Because the idea is unacceptable? In reality, it jibes with all sorts of ideas that, in this society, are perfectly acceptable.
One of these is regime change. Virtually everyone in a position of political power in America believes it's acceptable to impose punitive sanctions on a dangerous regime, even if those sanctions cause suffering to the ordinary people on whose behalf they're said to be imposed. And virtually everyone believes it's acceptable to go to war to drive out regimes deemed unacceptable, even though, again, regime-change wars kill, injure, and displace the very people on whose behalf they're said to be fought. The belief is that even horrible pain caused to the population will be offset by the blessings of a new regime. That's basically what the Republicans believe about default (and union-stripping, and everything else they're doing these days). They just think nothing could be worse than the continued existence of the current regime, i.e., the balance of power between the rich and the rest of us that existed for much of the twentieth century, or what's left of it. No amount of pain is too much to make the upending of that balance of power worthwhile.
(Of course, by "worthwhile" they mean not that we'll all live in utopia, but rather that we'll live in a sink-or-swim world that's good for us because it punishes us mercilessly when we fail or stumble or are felled by circumstance. For the rich and powerful, by contrast, it's simply beneficial because it's, well beneficial.)
Also remember that right-wingers believe in the economic notion of "creative destruction": If a shop goes out of business, it's the marketplace cleansing the system of a laggard. What seems heartbreaking to liberal squishes is actually beneficial -- invariably.
And here's a more cynical reason that Republicans don't fear default: they clearly don't believe -- or at least their corporate masters clearly don't believe -- that it's necessarily worthwhile for America to have an economy that serves the majority of the population well. Most multinationals do their manufacturing in countries with small or nonexistent middle classes -- and as long as those regimes are stable, there doesn't seem to be much downside, right? Criminal gangs know this too -- whether in Sinaloa or Whitey Bulger's South Boston or the Baltimore of The Wire, criminal organizations don't feel the need to find a home base with good schools and parks and a thriving middle class. It's just the opposite, in fact. You can do quite well in a mini-failed state. And speaking of failed states, what was Al Qaeda looking for in the 1990s? Certainly not governmental stability -- a failed state is precisely what it needed to thrive, first in Sudan and then in Afghanistan. Our overlords may not accept that the last two examples form a good analogy, but the thinking is quite similar. So, with all this, why not destroy the broader economy and the middle class? What's the downside for the elites?