Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.
Friday, December 9, 2016

WASHINGTON — Seeing our government and our creditworthiness held hostage to the demands of a right-wing minority is infuriating. It’s also heartbreaking.

It’s heartbreaking because the only thing keeping our country from being its growing, innovative and successful self is genuinely and unnecessarily stupid politics.

The United States emerged from a horrific global recession in better shape than most other countries. Our recovery was slower than it had to be because of too much budget-cutting, too soon. Nonetheless, we avoided the more extreme forms of austerity and our economy has been coming back — at least until this made-in-the-House-Republican-Caucus crisis started.

It’s heartbreaking because a nation whose triumphs have always provided inspiration to proponents of democracy around the world is instead giving the champions of authoritarian rule a chance to use our dysfunction as an argument against democracy.

Does it really make House Speaker John Boehner proud that when the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank host global economic leaders on Thursday, one of their central pieces of business will be scolding the United States for using the debt limit as a political football?

It’s heartbreaking because the reward to President Obama for pursuing broadly middle-of-the-road policies is to be accused of being an ultra-liberal or, even more preposterously, a socialist. Are our right-wing multimillionaires and billionaires who are making more money than ever so unhinged that they can cast a modest tax hike as a large step toward a Soviet-style economy?

The most revealing example of the lunacy that now rules is the very health care plan that has Republicans so up in arms that they’re willing to wreck the economy to get it repealed. The Affordable Care Act is actually based on market principles that conservatives, including Mitt Romney and the Heritage Foundation, once endorsed. Its centerpiece promotes competition among insurers and subsidizes the purchase of private insurance.

It has little in common with the British National Health Service or the Canadian single-payer model — systems that work, by the way — except for sharing with them the goal of eventually covering everyone. Yet we have a shutdown driven by the idea, as Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) put it, that Obamacare constitutes the “greatest threat” to our economy. It should not surprise us when errant nonsense creates a nonsensical crisis.

And what’s going on is heartbreaking because this contrived emergency is distracting us from the problems we do need to solve, including rising inequality, declining mobility, under-investment in our infrastructure, a broken immigration system and inadequate approaches to educating and training our people.