If you think that our politics looks polarized this week, imagine what it’s going to look like when the choices are a more or less identical partial shutdown of the government plus suspending most or all Social Security payments indefinitely, eliminating federal health-care benefits, and/or defaulting on our bonds and enduring the subsequent economic chaos. There are people in Congress, Senator Rand Paul among them, with serious if necessarily imperfect plans to help get us from where we are to a safer and more sustainable place, and the main obstacle to such reforms is not gridlock or special-interest lobbying or any of the usual suspects in Washington: It is the willful ignorance of the American people, who refuse to demand that their elected representatives act like responsible adults who can count.
It’s the people who elected and reelected Barack Obama and his team — and it’s the people saying “Don’t touch my Social Security! I paid into it!,” along with the so-called conservatives in farm states who make like Pharisees every time they catch sight of an EBT card on the way to deposit their farm-subsidy checks. Everybody is talking this week about dysfunction inside the Beltway, but the problem, America, is you. None of that spending is free. And if you want a quantitative measure of the real long-term impact of that national immaturity, see those accumulating interest payments.
Senator Ted Cruz tried in his way to issue a wake-up call, and of course he was mocked for it: “Too dramatic, too radical. Hey, let’s see what Jon Stewart has to say!” Senator Cruz is a radical in the literal sense: He’s looking at the root of the problem, which is the mutated role of the state in our national life, what Frédéric Bastiat called “that great fiction by which everyone endeavors to live at the expense of everyone else.” In fact, Senator Cruz is not half radical enough, and neither are his more cautious colleagues. We’ll deal with the statutory debt ceiling, one way or the other. The real debt ceiling is a different matter.