August 5, 2011

The Assumptions Underlying Harrop's Insanity

Justin Katz

One would think that members of an editorial staff would offer each other the service of gently warning their coworkers when they near the deep end. Or perhaps Froma Harrop is firmly convinced of the approaching death of newspapers and is effectively auditioning for a part in the far-left blind heat machine.

Granted, her tirade against the Tea Party movement, Republicans, and even President Obama has the incongruent quality of being both inane to the point of offense and unoriginal. It's one thing for a writer with a well-paying publicly visible job to rant like an overly righteous undergrad; it's quite another if she does so with an undergrad's lack of originality, and a column that Jeff Jacoby published in the Boston Globe the same day that Harrop's diatribe ran illustrates that we'd already heard it all. Here's Harrop's version:

Make no mistake: The Tea Party Republicans have engaged in economic terrorism against the U.S. — threatening to blow up the economy if they don't get what they want. And like the al-Qaida bombers, what they want is delusional: the dream of restoring some fantasy caliphate in which no one pays taxes, while the country is magically protected from foreign attack and the elderly get government-paid hip replacements.

Americans are not supposed to negotiate with terrorists, but that's what Obama has been doing. Obama should have grabbed the bully pulpit early on, bellowing that everything can be discussed but not America's honor, which requires making good on its debt obligations. Lines about "we're all at fault" and "Republicans should compromise" are beyond pathetic on a subject that should be beyond discussion.

Oh, please, Mr. Obama, follow Harrop's advice! Better yet, Democrats, please do not hesitate to find a candidate who promises her a taste of the red meat that she knows to be just beyond the rabid foam that coats her lips.

For the sake of finding some way of salvaging intellectual discussion from Harrop's ravings, though, pause for a moment to consider what she must believe to be true in order to come to her conclusions:

In the last half century, Congress has raised the debt ceiling 49 times under Republican presidents and 29 times under Democrats. The votes were cast without drama because the idea of this country defaulting on its debts was unthinkable. This last-minute deal notwithstanding, the dangerous precedent whereby America's promise to pay what it owes can be brought into political play has been set. ...

Republicans are ultimately going to take the rap over this debt-ceiling outrage. The full faith and credit of the United States is not a matter over which reasonable people may disagree, and the larger public knows that in its heart.

Two assumptions must be met for this to be logically consistent, and I don't think the "larger public" shares those assumptions. They're certainly arguable enough that a rational person would restrain her rhetoric when standing upon them to speak (or snarl, as the case is).

First, she assumes that the debt ceiling ought to be little more than a mile marker on the highway — passed with scarcely a notice and signifying nothing of substantial concern. To the contrary, I suspect the average attention-paying American would think it reasonable for the debt ceiling to be, at the very least, a mechanism for generating real political heat whenever elected representatives pass it. This is a "real success" of the Republicans' debt-ceiling maneuvers (albeit inadequate to current challenges), as Charles Krauthammer states:

... because of the Boehner rule — which he invented on his own out of whole cloth in that speech he gave at the New York Economic Club a few months ago in which he said a dollar of debt ceiling increase has to be matched by a dollar of spending cuts (which, Jay Carney is right, there's no logical connection, but now there is a political indelible connection) — every time the debt ceiling will come up, there's going to be a debate in the country. This is a real success.

Second, Harrop assumes that every expenditure of government is akin to an immutable debt resting on the "full faith and credit of the United States." Real cuts to government spending may be difficult, but they can be accomplished without a financial default. One wonders whether the reason that the Fromarian ilk has rattled off its hinges is that they fear a society inclined to reconsider — and force their elected representatives to reconsider — whether government can in fact do everything.

Put differently, they fear a civic process in which it is no longer adequate to force a policy into law — by legislation, by executive order, by bureaucratic regulation, or by judicial decree — but rather, in which paying for that policy and its enforcement must be justified every year.

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Froma proves that there are plenty of educated morons in high places.

Maybe she can explain why the Democrats have not passed a budget since the enablers used parlimentary tricks to get ObamaCare passed. You know, the legislation they had to pass to find out what was in it.

Posted by: dave at August 5, 2011 10:24 AM

Maybe she could explain why she refused to call Anders Breivik a terrorist but yet has no qualms labeling Americans such for having an opposition ideology. Maybe she could explain why Anders Breivik was 'insane' while Jared Lee Loughner 'might be insane' but was pushed over the edge by the 'gun-waving right wing'. I guess if she had a sensible message, the left would just ignore her.

Posted by: Max Diesel at August 5, 2011 11:11 AM

I thought the debt ceiling "crisis" was an example of how our federal government is supposed to work. The big government liberals had control of the House, Senate and White House after the 2008 elections. In 2010 the GOP gained the House where every member has to be reelected every 2 years and made gains in the Senate where only 1/3 of the seats were in play. Full turnover of our legislative and executive branches can not be done in less than 6 years, but the House can start shifting direction quickest.

Posted by: Phil Hirons, Jr. at August 5, 2011 11:13 AM

Given Froma's penchant for sartorial judgment, she probably believes Anders Breivik dresses better than the average Tea Partier. Maybe that's why she joins Glenn Beck in letting that cute Aryan boy off the hook.

Posted by: bella at August 5, 2011 5:27 PM

The self-hating white progressives are the terrorists. Suicide bombers determined to take the whole Western world with them.

Posted by: Tommy Cranston at August 5, 2011 7:14 PM

Who names a kid "Froma"and expects them to be normal?
"Froma"sounds like the stuff that forms on the top of a barrrel of pickled herring.

Posted by: joe bernstein at August 6, 2011 12:28 PM

There are some words that really should only be used literally, like the word "terrorist." Whether one likes or agrees with the agenda and opinions of the Tea Party, they were elected by their constituents based on what they promised to do. Love them, hate them or disagree with them, they are not mounting a surprise attack in congress. This is how our form of government is supposed to work. I think Ms. Harrop was incredibly misguided in her choice of words and is guilty of exactly what she decried after the Gabrielle Giffords attack. Either hyperbole and vitriol in the public sphere are right or wrong, all the time, regardless of which party employs them. She can't have it both ways.

Posted by: Bucket Chick at August 6, 2011 6:41 PM
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