Sitting in a hotel room in downtown Detroit, looking east from the 18th floor, I can see the General Motors’ headquarters in the foreground and, on the horizon, a Chrysler plant – the stains-and-steel goliath where my grandfathers toiled.
It is from that view I come to a point of view about the “fiscal cliff” deal struck in far-off Washington. And so I tweet: “Leaving #Michigan where punting work and deflecting blame gets you fired. Back to DC where such shit gets you re-elected.”
Washington’s answer to a self-inflicted financial crisis reminded Americans why they so deeply distrust the political class. The “fiscal cliff” process was secretive and sloppy, and the nation’s so-called leadership lacked the political courage to address our root problems: joblessness and debt.
Instead, the White House and congressional leaders set the stage for another maddening confrontation two months from now, when the nation’s credit will be held hostage again to Washington’s incompetence.
The “fiscal cliff” bill shoved through Congress over the New Year’s holiday eliminates Bush-era tax breaks for the wealthy, extends unemployment benefits, and delays automatic cuts to the Pentagon and other agencies that were negotiated during the previous fiscal fiasco.
It is, at best, a Band-Aid prescription for fiscal cancer. Zachary Goldfarb writes in the Washington Post: “… The deal is too modest to fundamentally tame the government’s soaring debt. The nation’s long-term finances remain in peril with federal spending projected to rise dramatically as a wave of retiring baby boomers turns to the government for help in paying for ever-more-costly health care.”
A reader of my tweet from Detroit asks, “Does everyone share equal blame? Or just a minority of GOP lunatics”. My answer: “Blame not equal but it is en masse.”
In other words, conservative Republicans are being irresponsible and intransigent so give them the lion’s share of the blame. But President Obama isn’t the first president to face a short-sighted foe. The great ones – Abraham Lincoln and both Roosevelts come to mind – etched their names in stone with the bones of defeated rivals.
Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, one of just eight senators to vote against the bill, suggested that Obama needed to allow the country to careen over the fiscal cliff in order to force a meaningful package from Congress. “But it’s a terrible thing to say,” he told Maureen Dowd of the New York Times. “People at home are so bone-tired of these outcomes.”
More from her column, quoting Bennet here:
“Washington politics no longer follows the example of our parents and our grandparents who saw as their first job creating more opportunity, not less, for the people who came after. My mother’s parents were refugees from Warsaw who came here after World War II because they could rebuild their shattered lives. But the political debate now is a zero-sum game that creates more problems than solutions.”
He thinks the trouble is not so much a clash of Democratic and Republican orthodoxies as it is a clash of past and future. “I think the inhabitants of the past are fighting hard to keep the rents they acquired in the 20th century,“ he said.
Bennet strikes a chord from this hotel room in Detroit, a city built by people determined to make life better for their children and grandchildren. A city nearly in ruins, because the rents of the 20th century have come due.