Sunday, April 21, 2024

Former comedian Victoria Jackson speaks at a Boston tea party rally April 14, 2010. The tea party helped push the country to debt ceiling crisis that has resulted in a downgrade of the country’s credit rating by Standard & Poor’s. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Cambridge Day is part of a project called Voices of MainStreet — a weekly, nationwide Q&A in which editors at the money and lifestyle site ask questions and bloggers answer them. For this entry, we were asked about the recent debt ceiling debate and deal.

I’m left numb by the debt ceiling debate, which is odd because there are so many strong feelings adding up that numbness. You know: rage at the tea party, disgust with the Republicans, disappointment in the Democrats, shame at imagining the rest of the world watching this whole tawdry affair play out — yet it all adds up to a dreary numbness, like smoke and haze coming together as smaze (but more like if a meteor strike, earthquake and pestilence somehow resulted in something dull).

No surprise either at a New York Times/CBS poll Friday showing Congress at a resulting 14 percent approval rating, the lowest since record-keeping began in 1977, since this just seemed like another time conservative politics has gotten in the way of governing — is it crazy to wish we could get the politics out of government? — and Democrats as a group have limped around ineffectually, if not cravenly, incapable of putting out a unified message that will resonate with the country and save us from the craziness.

Here’s a message: Conservatives are not the party of fiscal responsibility. Conservatives are the party of fiscal idiocy.

The stock markets operate on confidence. We have indexes and surveys that take continual readings of market confidence, consumer confidence, employer confidence and the confidence that results in the purchase of expensive items such as delivery trucks (or, for the consumer, washer/dryers). Yet conservatives thought the debt ceiling was “a hostage worth ransoming” in the words of Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader and a Kentucky Republican, and “some of our members may have thought the default issue was a hostage you might take a chance at shooting.”

Heck, they skipped happily toward a debt ceiling default saying they didn’t think the world or stock markets would mind if America simply didn’t pay its debts for a while. Can conservatives, who fulminate so persistently against the fiscal incompetence of the tax-and-spend Democrats, really not have known that the people holding U.S. debt would mind if the country just shrugged and said, “I can’t pay you. I mean I could pay you, but I decided not to.” Is it possible they didn’t know our debt would be downgraded, resulting in higher interest rates and therefore a higher payout? Did they think debt holders would give up the chance at those higher payouts because — because what? Because of American exceptionalism? Because the world loves our cheeseburgers and Angelina Jolie?

Did they think this would be helpful as the gravity of a double-dip recession starts dragging us inexorably downward? Did they not foresee that a crisis of “confidence” might contribute toward Thursday’s 512-point selloff in the Dow?

And all this to protect three rounds of disastrous tax cuts for the nation’s richest sold by George W. Bush at the start of his presidency as expiring at the end of 2010. Repeat: When we accepted these tax cuts, it was because we were told they were going to end last year. (When I say “we” I exclude me and most people I know. And I certainly played no role in extending the cuts, which as far back as August 2002 economist Paul Krugman had identified as being responsible for a $7 trillion swing from Democratic surpluses to Republican deficits.)

As just an average guy on the street, albeit one who sometimes buys copies of The New York Times while he’s on that street, I found it beyond obvious that the nation’s wealthiest people didn’t need three rounds of tax cuts; they didn’t need them extended beyond their promised expiration date; that fiscal irresponsibility on the part of the U.S. government wouldn’t play well anywhere; and that people who say they are serious and smart about fiscal responsibility should be able to grasp these things as well.

Poll me and you’ll find I’m 100 percent confident of that. In other news, I’m now also 75 percent certain we’re totally, fiscally screwed.