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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

"....the validity of the public debt shall not be questioned." The public debt limit crisis, politics, and our complex, and magnificent, political/legal system

Some people say our political system is dysfunctional.  Why can't politicians make decisions, using reason, and without rancorous power struggles?  In my view, when reasonable people, or large populations of people, disagree about how a public problem should be resolved, rancorous political power struggles will ensure, inevitably.

Take, for example, the current crisis over raising the public debt limit so that the United States does not default on the payment of treasury bills, bonds, government salaries, and military salaries.  This is no academic question. If our government defaults, the world's faith will be shaken in the U.S. as the last bastion of economic sanity in a world full of banana republics whose currencies unreliably depend for their value on political regimes which fluctuate like New England weather.

So, die-hard liberals lament, why can't the conservatives see their way to compromising on raising taxes, to encourage Democrats in the House and the Senate to vote for a federal budget with lots of expense cuts?

And why, complain the Tea Party conservatives, can't the "Democrat" congressmen and senators forgo their demand for tax increases on the wealthy, in order to gain our agreement to a leaner federal budget and a corresponding increase in the debt limit, thereby avoiding default?

Those on either side of the aisle, or, in the case of us, the voting public, on either side of the argument, ask, "Why can't those politicians just get along, for the good of the nation?"  The problem is, both sides have legitimate, reasonable points and arguments.  Each may be wrong with respect to the extremity of their positions, but on the whole, both sides have their reasons which justify their contrasting views.  In politics, one man's glass may seem to him half-empty, while to the other, the glass is "clearly" half-full.

In the present controversy, there is reason to be confident that a solution to the problem will be found, and default avoided.  And this is simply because ours is a complex, and elegant political/legal system.  If the House and Senate cannot bring themselves to trim their differences and strike a compromise, then the solution WILL, I predict, be found at the place where politics and The Law intersect.

An illuminating article in the July 24th NY Times discusses the constitutional option at length.  And yes, it was that paragon of moral virtue, none other than Bill "Oral Office" Clinton, who called the press's attention to the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which provides that, The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payments of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion,” the critical sentence says, “shall not be questioned.

In "Oliver Twist," Dickens wrote, Mr. Bumble famously declared, "the law is a ass—a idiot."  While that may be true generally, in the present public debt crisis, I suggest to you that "our politicians are a ass--a idot."  And when politics becomes "a ass," that is, a donkey standing, like Balaam's Ass, in the way of moving forward to a problem's solution, The Law, in all its vagary, complexity, nay, majesty, sometimes steps forward and lets a flawed, very human, alpha politician take the bull by the horns and impose a needed resolution.  

In the present imbroglio, Barack Hussein Obama may, once again, take the reigns of the situation and, using the 14th Amendment language, quoted above, finally find a way to move the ship of state out of the political doldrums in which we, and the world, presently find ourselves stalled, gasping to be able to breathe wind at our backs.  I say "once again," because not too long ago, President Barry grabbed the reigns of state and solved a problem which his predecessor in the Oval Office effectively kicked down the road when "W" decided to invade Iraq in 1993 rather than keep the focus on tracking down and finding Osama Bin Laden in Tora Bora.  

Let us pray that our president--yes, like him or not, he is our President, just as "W" was the President of all of us, before B. Hussein O.--will use his power to threaten not to use the 14th Amendment constitutional option to solve the crisis, in order to pressure our beta politicians to strike the compromise, or, failing that, pull the rip cord and insure a soft landing for the good of the world economy.

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