Cantor and Co. Wimped Out at the Cliff's Edge, but There's More Scary Terrain Ahead

New Year's Day was great -- saw The Hobbit with son and girlfriend, came home to prime rib, what could be better? -- but I also spent a hell of a lot of time on the iPad trying to find out if I had fallen off a cliff yet. I'm not sure which was more death-defying -- the movie or real life.

The real-life drama goes on, of course, with a sequel coming up quickly in the debt-limit debate. But before this first chapter fades from view, I want to make one mental note for sure.

Note to self: At a key point in the debate, the House Republican position was a firm no to any tax increase for millionaires and a firm yes to cuts in Medicare and Medicaid. No to taxes for the very rich. Yes to cuts for the middle class and under. Got it. We can debate the deficit.

Nobel laureate economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman had a piece in the Times last Sunday pointing out that the deficit issue has been the target of an enormous campaign of disinformation from the right. By conflating macro economics with Home Economics, the water-carriers for the rich have argued that the federal debt is an uncontestably terrible thing.

Krugman reminded us Sunday that public debt can be an enormously good thing when it's used to spur private-economic activity. But like I said, we can debate that. We can talk about it, just as we can and should debate the value of the federal social safety net and how to make it more efficient. If there's a way to pay less for aspirin, let's do it.

I don't think even the most ardent champion of the safety net is a champion of waste. In fact somehow it always turns out to be the other way around: It's the Republicans who wind up arguing that it would be cruel and unusual for the government to manage its medical care money efficiently, as in bargaining for better prices from drug companies, for example.

What we cannot debate is this: No to taxes for the uber-rich, yes to cuts to care for everybody else. That really tells the tale. That's the one we don't ever want to forget, because that was the brief moment in the din of battle when the smoke cleared and we saw whose ox they really wanted to gore and whose ox they were fighting to protect.

No reasonable person believes that issues of great magnitude can be resolved in an enormously complex society such as our own without meaningful compromise. Saying no to taxes on the very rich but yes to cuts for the middle class and poor is not even remotely an offer of compromise. It's a battle cry vowing death to the foe.

In that one brief glimpse of reality on the field, we saw the truth about the Eric Cantor/Paul Ryan Teaper wing of the Republican Party. They are not trying to resolve any issues of magnitude. They are working to protect billionaires, no matter what the cost to the country.

I don't know whether to be relieved or to gloat over their last-minute tail-between-legs retreat. For all their bluster, they quailed from the cliff when their toes got up to it. Were they stricken by conscience? Did they not want to be remembered throughout history as economic Benedict Arnolds? Or was it just that we saw their real game clearly when the clouds parted, and they knew they had been seen?

I have the same feeling I had at the end of The Hobbit. Damn. Now I have to wait for the sequel to find out.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze