Frankensteins and Their Monsters

One of the few pleasures, perverse though it be, of watching the debt-ceiling idiocy unfold has been the spectacle of the very powers who helped create the American far right -- helped elect it, and contributed mightily to its ideology -- pleading with the congressional Tea Party acolytes to support legislation (John Boehner's latest effort in particular) to raise the debt ceiling. From Grover Norquist to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the guys who write those deranged Wall Street Journal editorials, the right wing's powers-that-be have spent the past few days imploring the Tea Party congressmen, as one might a slow-witted and recalcitrant child, to realize that refusing to raise the debt ceiling, particularly now that all tax increases have been taken off the table, is a really, really bad idea.

"Boehner's plan is the only way to bring spending down by the same amount the debt ceiling increases -- without raising taxes," Norquist, author and enforcer of the no-tax pledge, told Politico's "Arena" column on Wednesday. (Actually, the same is true of Harry Reid's plan, but no matter.) "It is a tremendous win for the forces of limited government."

A similar caution was sounded by the Chamber, which contributed mightily (in dollars) to the Republicans' congressional victory last fall. In a letter to Congress, as reported in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal, Chamber Executive Vice President Bruce Josten told legislators that their vote on the Boehner plan would be one of the votes that the Chamber will use to rank members of Congress as pro- or anti-business. Nothing subtle about that.

Over on the editorial page of Wednesday's Journal, Republican congressmen were similarly adjured to vote for Boehner or suffer unspeakable consequences. "If conservatives defeat the Boehner plan," the Journal warned, "they'll go far to re-electing Mr. Obama and making the entitlement state that much harder to reform." Besides evoking such apocalyptic outcomes if Republicans reject Boehner, the paper also sought to woo the GOP holdouts with sweet reason. If the Boehner plan or something like it becomes law, the editors argued, "Democrats will have conceded more spending cuts than they thought possible, and without getting the GOP to raise taxes and without being able to blame Republicans for a debt-limit crackup or economic damage." (Again, that would be true if the Reid plan were enacted, too.)

(I don't mean to leave a misimpression: The empirical accuracy of the Journal's assessment here is in no way typical of its editorials. Just last Saturday, before any of the details of the massacre in Norway became clear, the Journal's editors rushed into print an editorial that blandly assumed the bloodshed there was the work of Islamic jihadists. "In Jihadists' eyes," they wrote, Norway "will forever remain guilty of being what it is: a liberal nation committed to freedom of speech and conscience, equality between the sexes, representative democracy and every other freedom that still defines the West." To be sure, many initially assumed that the carnage was the work of jihadists, but most other newspapers, and all the major ones, felt constrained by the absence of any information on the culprit and did not impute the attacks to Islamist terrorists. Not so the Journal's editors, for whom the absence of information has never been much of a constraint, and who still haven't seen fit to repudiate their editorial, though they've taken it down from their website in favor of a rewritten version that neglects to acknowledge how they had gone off half-cocked. But I digress.)

The Journal, the Chamber, Norquist, and their ilk have been behaving like a bunch of Drs. Frankenstein, running after the monster they created now that it's broken loose and is roaming the countryside, threatening general mayhem. It's one of the few edifying spectacles that the debt-limit crisis has produced.

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