Obama's Food for Thought

No one ever went broke, the saying goes, by underestimating the intelligence of the American people. And no one ever lost a political fight for the same reason. Nevertheless, at the press conference he conducted today, Barack Obama seemed hopeful about his ability to inform and persuade, even while acknowledging that folks might not have the clearest understanding of topics like the debt ceiling. "I just want to repeat, because I think sometimes the American people understandably aren't following all the debates here in Washington," Obama said. "Raising the debt ceiling does not authorize us to spend more. All it does is say that America will pay its bills. And we are not a deadbeat nation." 

Interestingly enough, this point wasn't made all that often the last time we fought about the debt ceiling in the spring of 2011. Republicans talked about restraining spending, and Democrats talked about Republicans threatening to tank the economy (which was true then, as it is now). But Democrats didn't make much of the fact that the presumption that raising the ceiling = spending more was fundamentally false.

 That's how many Americans probably understand it, though, which explains why Obama came back to the point multiple times, trying out an analogy that people might find easy to grasp. "You don't go out to dinner and then, you know, eat all you want and then leave without paying the check. Now, if Congress wants to have a debate about maybe we shouldn't go out to dinner next time, maybe we should go to a more modest restaurant, that's fine. That's a debate that we should have. But you don't say, in order for me to control my appetites, I'm going to not pay the people who already provided me services, people who already lent me the money. That's not showing any discipline. All that's doing is not meeting your obligations."

So They Say

“I like a good party."

President Obama, in the last news conference of his first term


Daily Meme: Studying Up for the Debt-Ceiling Fight

  • It may be a new year, there may be new cast members, and it may be a new presidential term (almost), but these debt-ceiling talks sure feel a lot like the last ones. 
  • In fact, we hardly need to roll out a new set of arguments and story ideas—we've got everything waiting in the archives!
  • Wondering about how this rigmarole got started? Turns out we've raised the ceiling 74 times since 1962. It used to be rather routine, but ... shall we say, certain legislators of conservative stripes have made the task into an ordeal in the name of austerity.
  • An ordeal which could have huge ramifications not only in the federal government, but in states and cities—not to mention the entire global economy.
  • Speaking of global, do other countries have to deal with this crap? Not really. It's just us and Denmark.
  • Although the trillion-dollar platinum coin was a novel touch, the Fourteenth Amendment op-eds that will most definitely be published next week won't be.
  • Here are some big-picture numbers to keep in the back of your mind while you take in all the opinions floating around from all sides.
  • Last time, we witnessed basically, as Paul Krugman termed it, "a catastrophe on multiple levels." Hopefully we don't reach the same levels of fearmongering and playground brawling, but we'll see if the coverage of this round differs at all from the last. 
  • Regardless of when or how the debt ceiling gets resolved, we probably won't know what the hell really happened until the big reported piece about the whole fiasco gets published a year from now. 
  • One thing we can do? Make sure people know what's at stake (and describe the stakes accurately). In July 2011, the apex of the previous debt mayhem, only 18 percent of the public had a good idea of what was going on.  
  • And yes, elephant-mating analogies and Matthew Broderick movie quotes are always encouraged when explaining the latest Obama and Boehner relationship drama.

What We're Writing

  • Steve Erickson writes that the Chuck Hagel pick is brilliant in that it forces Republicans to reckon with their internal right-ward shift. 
  • Abby Rapoport reports that we may see marriage equality in five more states come 2014. 

What We're Reading

  • Clarence Thomas spoke today during Supreme Court oral arguments. For the first time since 2006. 
  • Wonder what cocktail James A. Garfield resorted to after a long day warring with Congress? So did one bartender at the Willard Hotel in Washington, who put together a list of all 44 presidents' imagined drinks of choice.
  • George Packer wonders where the South will fit in American politics if its status as "Real America" continues to fade. 
  • Obama's 2012 fundraising strategy? Making people give small, then coaxing them to the donation limit.
  • Eliza Gray profiles the other conservative superlawyer in the Supreme Court gay marriage case.
  • Tim Murphy and Adam Serwer enumerate "14 Ways Obama Can Push Gun Control without Congress." 

Poll of the Day

The Obama administration is set to release new policy proposals for restricting guns and ammo. But the public largely supports the country's current gun laws, according to a new Gallop poll. Just 38 percent of Americans say they want tougher gun laws, compared to 43 percent happy with the status quo and 5 percent who would prefer looser laws.

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