What I Got Wrong On the Debt Ceiling. Pro Wrestling Rot is Deeper than I Thought. Both Encouraging and Worrying.

I didn’t understand how far the “pro wrestling” rot had spread.  McCarthy delivered what his radical wing wanted.  The wackadoodle’s non-negotiable demand was  a stage on which to go down in glorious, oppositional defeat.  He gave them a stage to strut on; making loud demands; striking defiant poses.   The policy result – universally scored to be a nothing-burger – was totally beside the point.

My worry about the debt ceiling was that MCarthy wouldn’t be able to get “enough” Republican votes to pass a compromise debt ceiling bill.  I was kinda right on that score.

The bill gained 165 votes from Democrats, outnumbering the 149 from members of McCarthy’s own Republican party.

I was wrong to think that McCarthy would not bring a “majority Democrat” bill to the floor.  He did.

I was MUCH MORE wrong to think that his House colleagues would care about the content of the bill.  I assumed they would care about the substance of the policy.  Economist and Historian Brad DeLong puts it well.

Could it be that it was all a game of Dingbat Kabuki? Could it be that what the Republican Rite wanted was for Kevin McCarthy to show that he would push things to the deadlined, and they did not care whether he won substantive policy victories? Was it just McCarthy saying “I will give you a quick and easy substantive budget negotiation if in return you spend two months acting like I am powerful and you are scared”?  https://braddelong.substack.com/p/briefly-noted-for-2023-05-31-we

That vote count is kind’ve encouraging over the next few years.  The US is not a parliamentary system, but we may be entering into an era of coalition government.  If that loose coalition of 165 Democrats and 149 Republicans hangs together, we could move beyond the extreme government dysfunction of the past decade.

The wackadoodle wings of both parties get to do their performative dances in front of the cameras.  The actual business of the nation gets quietly handled by that centrist coalition.  If we have a moderate in the White House (a big if) that cobbled-together system could actually be pretty – functional?

The worrying thing is that Pro Wrestling rot.  This is largely a Republican phenomena.  How far does it spread?  How deep does it go?  Janan Ganesh sums it up nicely in the FT (paywall).

I am no longer sure that populist voters want to win the culture war. Just being in it gives them meaning. If anything, there is more group identity in losing, more solidarity under siege than in triumph. If I am right, none of the governor’s arguments against Trump — his electoral repellence, his boredom with detail — are half as wounding as he hopes.  https://on.ft.com/43s3Equ

The only part he misses are the very worrying strains of Southern (and Western) “Lost Cause” mythology under the surface.  Glorifying “noble defeat” is intertwined with a lot of nastiness in American history…

Nihilism is also just socially toxic.  It eats away at the community feeling that underpins a nation.  In that sense, this coalition government “victory” is just appeasement.  The more we accommodate the madness, the more it will demand.  That is very worrying…

My (wrong) view from a week ago.

In the “Rebel Without a Cause” game of chicken, James Dean jumps.  The other guy’s jacket catches in the door and he plunges to his death (video below).  I think too many people are assuming we are James Dean…

A lot of people have also forgotten what happened the last time a “Grand Bargain” bill got to the House floor (under Boehner and Obama).  Boehner couldn’t corral the votes.  The bill (which read like a 1990’s Republican wish list) died an ugly death at the hands of a fractious Republican caucus.  Ask yourself –  Has the average Republican House member gotten more or less compromise-minded in the last 10 years?

I have no idea where the debt ceiling crazy train ends.  I do see a very narrow path for the widely assumed “moderate compromise” deal ever making it to the House floor for a vote much less passed.



Debt Ceiling – Are We James Dean or Are We the “Other Guy?”

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