A distinguished columnist, editor and foreign correspondent, Wes Pruden has been a leading voice of conservative thought for more than three decades.
Waiting to call someone's bluff
The game of blind-man's bluff isn't working.
More and more Americans are catching on to the game. President Obama's threat to withhold Granny's Social Security check did not send millions of Grannies into the streets, her walker banging noisily against a wheelchair, leaving the wounded lying bloodied amidst splintered walking canes.
The president, who never learned to play poker very well, seems unaware that bluffing is what the card game is all about. When he told Eric Cantor, the Republican leader in the House, "don't call my bluff," it was the tip-off that he was, in fact, bluffing. Careful bluffers keep it to themselves.
The Republicans no less than the Democrats really can't imagine sending the country into financial collapse. No one knows what would actually happen if the debt limit stays where it is. Neither party wants to be blamed for finding out. But neither side wants to be the first to blink, which is how bluffs are called.
There's growing public suspicion that the tumult over the budget negotiations, largely media-made, will be the biggest bust since the media-made panics over epidemics of anthrax, anthrax, SARS, e-coli virus and swine and avian flu; Y2K (when all the airliners were supposed to fall from the sky at the stroke of midnight at the beginning of the 21st Century). Not to forget global warming (the lie that keeps on giving) or the Great Carmageddon that was supposed to catch millions in gridlocked Southern California to starve or die of thirst in their cars. These "disasters" terrified network-TV airheads who passed the panic on, and millions of corpses were in fact counted from Hong Kong to Hanoi to Haiphong. Almost all of the corpses were dead pigs and chickens.
The White House is trying mightily to manufacture similar panic over the budget negotiations, but getting excited about Joe Biden or John Boehner stretches the limits of human imagination. The polls, closely watched by the president though he often pretends otherwise, reflect disappointing results. Higher taxes are a tough sell. A new Gallup Poll finds that any Republican would bury Barack Obama by 8 points "if the election were held today." Rasmussen finds a steady 5-point lead for the Republicans in the generic congressional poll.
Democrat and Republican alike know what must be done, Mr. Obama no less than Eric Cantor. Mr. Obama might be a great communicator if he had anything great to communicate, and he stated the case for action as eloquently as anyone: "The fact that we are here today to debate raising America's debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. government can't pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our government's reckless fiscal policies . . . Increasing America's debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that 'the buck stops here.' Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better."
Wow! Right on. Unfortunately, that was Barack Obama in 2006, when he was speaking to Senate Democrats -- many of whom are still in the Senate now singing a very different tune. Mr. Obama was determined not to raise the limit at the request of George W. Bush. By 4 votes, Mr. Bush persuaded Congress to raise the limit from $8 trillion to a little under $9 trillion. President Obama wants to pad enough trillions to enable the government to borrow enough to get him through the 2012 re-election season.
For most people, trillions sound like funny money. Printed in the newspapers without the zeroes, the figures 2.4, 9 and 12 don't look so scary. Add all those zeroes, as in $12,000,000,000,000, and they do. The late Everett Dirksen, the Republican majority leader a few eons ago, once remarked that "a billion dollars here and a billion there don't sound like so much, but you add it up and pretty soon we're talking about real money."
Sen. Mitch McConnell's scheme to give President Obama the authority to unilaterally raise the limit is said to be gaining friends. The Constitution limits the power "to borrow money on the credit of the United States" to Congress, but what's a Constitution among politicians? The Constitution, learned judges tell us, is "a living document," and doesn't necessarily mean what it says. We live in fraudulent times.
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