Commentary Magazine


Obama-Inspired Ringing Phones Are Debt Ceiling Sideshow

The New York Times Caucus blog is claiming the phones in Congress are ringing off the hook today. This is due to President Obama’s televised plea for Americans to contact their representatives and to tell them to back the “balanced” approach to the debt-ceiling crisis that the White House wants. But does anyone really think this stunt is intended to achieve a solution?

The president’s decision to double down on his class warfare rhetoric by painting the Republican majority in the House as the party of the rich was obviously intended as one of the opening shots of his re-election campaign. But it was irrelevant to the debt ceiling talks in which Obama’s demand for tax increases have already been abandoned by Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid. While there is no way to know for sure what the outcome of the next few days will be, one thing is already assured: the president’s political posturing is irrelevant to the attempt to find a compromise between the two parties on the debt.

Having been elected on a promise to halt the tax and spend policies that have built the debt, the chances the majority of House Republicans will bow to a pressure campaign orchestrated by Obama are slim and none. Nor should they. While the White House is encouraged by polls that show Republicans are blamed more for this standoff than the Democrats, there is no question the ultimate loser of a failure to come to an agreement would be Obama.

The president has done more to stoke fears about the economic consequences of a stalemate on raising the debt ceiling than anyone. And for all of the justified concern about the debt, the unemployment figures and the economic slowdown are the public’s primary worry. Does he really believe his continued blaming of his predecessor and everyone but himself will earn him a pass from voters on the economy?

It may be that many don’t sympathize with the GOP’s principled insistence that the debt not be solved by tax increases. But the president’s speech and the ringing phones he has inspired are both sideshows to the real work of crafting a genuine, as opposed to a contrived, compromise. If, by continuing to play chicken on the debt, Obama torpedoes a possible solution, he is deceiving himself if thinks no blame will attach to him. As unpopular as Republicans may be, his attempt to repeat President Clinton’s political success at the time of the 1995 government shutdown may have the unintended consequence of making Americans even more conscious of his economic failures.