My favorite view in the Hult Center is from the forwardmost mezzanine seats. From there I can see the show and the audience both. I can watch the watchers. And I know I’m not alone. When the Oregon Bach Festival commissioned Swedish composer Sven-David Sandström to remake Handel’s “Messiah” in 2009, I watched its premiere with the composer just five seats away. Watching creativity unfurl over an audience is a wonder to behold.
Maybe that explains why I became transfixed over the so-called Debt Ceiling Crisis. As a marketing consultant and a language guy, I feel obligated to pay attention to any event that may result in new uses for capital letters.
Our national budget process contains no hard deadlines, so the debt ceiling vote provided the urgency that’s required for a too-busy nation to focus its attention. The nation’s entire commentariat felt obligated to write or speak about the same topic. Nobody wants to get caught saying what has already been said, so some new ground got covered.
Notably, E.J. Dionne decried confusing moderation with centrism. As long as the Democrats and the press attempt to claim the center, extremists will be emboldened to yank on the edges to shift where the midpoint lands. Centrists have no ground to call their own, since their position adapts to wherever the new edges are staked.
We knew the Tea Partiers were extremists and ideologues, but we learned something new when drool stains pooled beneath some of them as calamity loomed. Violent desperation lurks inside each of us, but only anarchists smile and skip when windows break or fires start.
Sadly, we also saw President Obama’s true colors. Obama got behind the bully pulpit, but we learned he’s not a bully. He took a stand, again and again, but he didn’t stay put. Chicago breeds a certain style of politician, where being wily is prized above all else. An exasperated reporter once asked the legendary Mayor Daley his favorite color. Daley paused, smiled, and replied, “Plaid.”
Obama took a plaid position, criss-crossing each set of new lines he drew in his shifting sand. The public can be rallied best around a point, preferably a point held deeply by a person we respect. Instead, Obama acted like a Senate Majority Leader, hatching back room plans with political adversaries. A complex constellation of compromises describes every piece of legislation, but it does not inspire. Did he read the job description of president before he applied for the job?
What’s worse is that he enlisted the American people to call their representatives to demand a “balanced approach” to solving the Debt Ceiling Crisis — which should be shortened to “D.C. Crisis.” Citizens called, emailed and tweeted, but Obama accepted a solution that wasn’t balanced in the way he had insisted, earning him a harsh label from Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal: “Loser.” Will Americans light up Congressional phone lines next time he asks? What difference did it make?
I wish Obama had insisted on a $1 excise tax on every corporate jet sold in 2012, which might have raised a few thousand dollars but would force Republicans to break their no-tax pledge. If anyone accused the president of adding a silly provision to his demands, he’d have that opportunity to point out that silly was already in the room, invited by the other side.
The final deal entrusts a Gang of Twelve — six Senators, six Representatives, half from each party — to avert the next scheduled crisis. Do you feel hope welling up? Me neither. The Senate’s Gang of Six produced nothing of consequence. This will be twice that. Capitol Hill’s work is all being done by gangs now.
Vice President Joe Biden fumed that some Republicans have acted like terrorists. Terrorists have demonstrated that the thinking classes can be neutralized by threatening the unthinkable. If holding the nation’s economy hostage is the best way to extort budget cuts and deny Obama a second term, well, “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.”
Hostage-takers, terrorists, extortion, bullies, threats, and gangs — the language of thuggery is seeping up the walls of Congressional decorum, making everyone in America afraid to look in the basement.
Don Kahle (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes a weekly column for The Register-Guard and blogs.