In the wake of the August 2nd signing of the Debt Ceiling compromise, a number of mixed messages have been given. Some claim that President Obama and the Congressional Democrats won the day as he got the increase he wanted and removed a further debt increase as a potential talking point prior to the 2012 Presidential Election. Others claim the Congressional Republicans won the debate by not allowing new revenues to be generated through tax hikes or letting the Bush Era Tax Cuts expire and also by gaining political ground in making the President seem weak and ineffective. Still others claim that the Tea Party is the real victor here, forcing Speaker Boehner to include legislation for a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution as a condition of passing the bill. And some would even argue that it was the American people who won as default was avoided, averting what was sure to be devastating financial repercussions.
So who actually won?
Some lost more than others. A number of bullet pointed goals were not met. But the real casualty here was a measure of confidence in our leaders to do what is right and necessary in crisis.
The debt ceiling debate made one thing perfectly clear, that partisan politics are killing our governmental process. This, more than the money we owe other nations, may be the greatest cost of how the Federal Government is run. The credit agencies we sought to appease with this legislation are still unsure about us and giving us a "negative outlook". That is due, in part I believe, to the process by which we do business in America; the fact that our policies are driven not just by the public good, but by what will play the best on the 24 Hour News channels.
For a few weeks, the whole world was looking at our National equivalent of the monthly kitchen table discussion of how the heck are we going to pay our bills. The difference is that shifting our priorities meant good people might not get money they need to get by in a flagging economy and the ripples of default didn't just mean our own temporary discomfort, but potentially sending the global economy reeling. Everything was on a knife's edge, it seemed, and the world held our breath.
But our politicians only let this be one factor, it appeared, in their deliberations. It was not the goal of keeping the nation solvent and the economy stable that was at the forefront, but who would be able to put their stamp on the solution and say "We did it". The means became the ends and the real ends became a footnote.
That the past few years, in fact the past decade, has been a very contentious time in US politics is no secret. But the Debt Ceiling debate highlighted the fact that there are men on Capitol Hill willing to play dice with the population's well being and security to score points with their constituents. There are men who are under the impression that if they can make the house fall on their opponent, we will forget it is they who eroded the foundations and that we will still support them though we now have no place to sleep.
Those men are wrong.
Whether this chapter in our history is a true retreat from the brink of disaster or if it is simply one pebble rolling downhill to form the avalanche of our financial ruin remains to be seen. We can hope that in coming months, making sure the country runs smoothly is a higher priority than points in polls. We can hope that those who have sworn to uphold the Constitution will not forget what purpose that document serves nor the people who can say "We the" and who this "more perfect Union" stands to unify.
But if this debate is any indicator, there are more ugly skirmishes in our future with similarly murky outcomes. When the smoke clears, the Democrats, the Republicans and the Tea Party can all argue over whose bullet was closest to the bullseye. Let us hope that the target, however, is not us and that the American Dream does not die to friendly fire.