Bill Murchison
"This is part of the problem with a political process where folks are rewarded for saying irresponsible things to win elections."

No! Couldn't be! Saying things like "hope and change"? And now -- so as to strike the pose of adult calm amid riotous kids -- "Pull off the Band-Aid. Eat our peas. Now is the time to do it."

President Obama's inability to rise above the silly and superficial -- in tribute perhaps to the silliness and superficiality he apparently attributes to the voters -- is one reason silly, superficial press conferences dominate the news about the debt ceiling. You know -- like the one Monday during which Obama, striving to look and sound like an authority figure, urged attention to a problem he and the Democratic leadership of Congress mostly helped shape over the past two years.

It would be, well, silly and superficial to imply Republicans, like the "Captain of the Pinafore," never overspend the resources entrusted to them. The raising of federal debt ceilings is an exercise occasioned by the reluctance, inherent in all politicians, to tell voters no: the real parental stuff. "Irresponsible things" do get said at election time. By many.

Rarely, though, has any administration been so disconnected from Reality as is the one now lecturing us. Who strong-armed through Congress a health insurance measure on the supposition that somehow we, the taxpayers, will cough up the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of billions necessary to pay for it forever? As everyone and his dog knows, the Affordable Care Act was the Obama administration's bright idea.

Ironically, the president plans next year, while seeking re-election, to pat himself enthusiastically on the back for winning passage of the very measure that makes control of federal spending so devilishly hard. Having told us to eat our peas, he plans next to remind us how good they tasted.

The democratic political process is a wonderful thing until it becomes -- like now -- not very wonderful at all. A little foresight is necessary to make it work. A little care and caution. A little civilized restraint. Of these treasured commodities, none has been visible in American politics for some years. If the Bush administration went overboard with creation of an expensive Medicare prescription program, the new president and his helpers dived with glee and gusto into the surrounding sea of red, whooping it up. We didn't have the money to do what they wanted. Bless their hearts, they didn't care. They wanted to do it.

The debt ceiling battle might in retrospect prove a blessing in disguise if it made the participants finally look around them and acknowledge the mess into which their own incaution has dumped them. There does have to be a long-term deal of some sort -- one that controls spending, hence the appetite to spend.

The prerequisite to such a deal is of course the kind of leadership to which President Obama seems, ahem, indisposed. He has to look around, say something like, what a mess, we're not doing this anymore, folks! -- and mean every syllable of it. He won't otherwise get much help from particular Republicans whose virtue, when it comes to spending, is no greater than his own: in some cases, maybe less.

Virtue is the hardest act to pull off in electoral politics, hence the rarest. The Constitution presupposes it without requiring its performance. Of the presidential office, Hamilton says in "The Federalist Papers," No. 68: "It will not be too strong to say that there will be a constant probability of seeing the station filled by characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue." From presidents, we expect more than little lectures about pulling off the Band-Aid when it's time. We expect hard work and ideas.

"Let's do it, quoth the president. Do what? Most of all, do it how? Obama's gift for snappy injunctions -- the kind he deplores even while issuing them -- looks like his highest talent: the one that got him where he is. And us along with him. Sigh.


Bill Murchison

Bill Murchison is the former senior columns writer for The Dallas Morning News and author of There's More to Life Than Politics.
 
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