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Perspective on Washington

 Over the past couple of months I have not written anything in this blog. My wife, Sally, and I were on a five week road trip across America in her Prius. We did do a trip blog which, for the curious, may be found at This was a trip about those enormous parts of America outside the major cities. Once west of Chicago, the country blossoms with the vastness of plain, prairie, mountains and rivers. Sally and I know our country pretty well, we thought, but we have returned with a new appreciation of the “purple mountain majesty above the fruited plain".

Somehow it helps put some of what is going on in Washington now in perspective.  In many ways the politicians in Washington are living in an alternative universe.  This universe is governed by polling data and approved phrases.  An open mike recently caught Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell noting that the Republicans were using phrases like “we will negotiate” which polled much better than Obama’s phrase “I will not negotiate”.  Of course, the Republicans don’t have any intention of negotiating in the sense the rest of us use the term.  Are most Americans so dumb that we respond to this poll-tested universe of catch phrases?  We’ll see.

I prefer to think that most of us simply look at Washington as more and more of a side show that has little to do with our lives.  Most of the time this is the case.  There is much huffing and puffing in our Nation’s capital, but little consequential happens.

Unfortunately the debt ceiling situation is another matter entirely.  It is consequential.  If the US reneges on its obligations – and these are all obligations to various creditors we have already made, then the financial consequences are likely more significant than a nuclear attack.

That is why we have the 14th amendment – to insure that the government always lives up to its financial obligations.  The fact that Republican leadership in the House seems willing to risk the economy – to do what:  delay Obamacare or defund it, seems monumentally absurd.  Outside the US financial commentators are aghast.  Last week Martin Wolf, an economics commentator for the Financial Times, could find no way to explain this folly to his global audience.

We can only hope that the Republicans will not step over this cliff.  There are more reasonable voices in the Party – where are they?  If I were the President, I would end the drama now by declaring myself willing to use the 14th amendment powers to unilaterally raise the debt ceiling.  It is that important.

Our President has shown himself timid in crisis so goodness knows what he may do.  He may simply cave to the Republicans at the 23rd hour.  However, the very worst outcome would be that both sides blunder into default.

Sally and I barely read a paper and never turned on a television in the five weeks we were gone.  This was blissful.  However, now is the time to re-engage.  The politicians in Washington are in danger of a monumental blunder on what should be, and has been, a routine matter of fiscal policy.

What can we do?  Short-term we can and should contact our elected Representatives, particularly those like Susan Collins, who are Republican.  Senator Collins has come up with a plan to avoid default. It is not much of a solution, but it has sparked a dialogue that may help resolve the crisis. She also should be pressing House Majority Leader John Boehner to step up to his leadership role instead of pandering to the tea party in his caucus.

In fact, all of us should contact John Boehner.  He is the threat to our full faith and credit.

Looking to next November, we need to mobilize to elect more reasonable people to the House of Representatives.  I am tired of being pushed around by the flame-throwers from the Tea Party.  They do not represent the majority in this country.  They need to be voted out.  Of course with the effects of gerrymandering gone wild, many of them will be re-elected.  Hopefully the American people will mobilize behind enough Democrats to give that party the majority in the House.  I would prefer that Republican moderates held the balance, but the GOP has been so hi-jacked by the conservatives that this is not likely in the near term.

Longer term, if more states will, like California, have their electoral districts set by independent commissions, and if more states, like Washington state, adopt an open primary approach where Republicans, Democrats, and Independents all square off in one primary, and if we can overturn decisions like Citizens United…  this is a lot of “ifs” but we are in for a long slog to render our democracy operable again.

It has taken us years to render our system this dysfunctional, it will take us years to make our way out.