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Debt Ceiling Debate Has Heavy Element of Theatrics

The current debate about raising the debt ceiling is important, but there’s a heavy element of theatrics involved here that the media loves to contribute to. And like so many debates in Washington, its importance is exaggerated. For example, right now the media commentary would have you believe this is a pivotal moment in the Obama presidency, and that he’s taking steps to transform himself from a big-spending liberal to the Only Adult in Washington who wants to tackle the deficit.

Call him Obama the Budget Slayer.

This storyline is as grounded in reality as Grimm’s Fairy Tale. But even if it were to take hold – and the press is doing all it can to see it does take hold – its significance will be less than many reporters and commentators think. And the reason is this: for all the posturing, for all the maneuvering, and all the front-page stories in Politico, what will matter, at the end of the day, are the conditions–and most especially the economic conditions–in America.

Deals matter, and so do optics. But this deal will not fundamentally re-shape the trajectory of American life or American politics. And once a debt ceiling deal is made and the legislation is passed, its positive effects (whatever they may be for Obama) will mostly fade away. And if we had, say, two more months of job growth like we saw in June, when only 18,000 new jobs were added and the unemployment rate ticked up to 9.2 percent, whatever good results Obama might get will evaporate like water droplets on a summer day.

Right now, the press is caught in the moment. But things will settle down, as they usually do; and Obama will be judged on his record, as presidents usually are.


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