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Belmont Club

The Day The World Stood, Still

October 8th, 2013 - 2:39 pm

David Weigel at Slate keeps waiting for the sky to fall. He argues that just because the shutdown didn’t end the world the Republicans shouldn’t conclude the President is shooting blanks. Sooner or later a live round will chamber — just wait for a failure to up the debt limit — and every conservative will lose his seat in 2014.

Their faith this will happen is strong. The ‘reality based’ liberal community know the real danger comes from any government hibernation and pityingly regards the deluded conservative “base”, who perversely think unrestrained spending will instead cause “some future, Greece-style collapse. That feels more real to them than these spending and shutdown crises that can be easily blamed on President Obama, parlor tricks meant to make Republicans surrender.”

While both sides remain gripped by a sense of clear and present danger, albeit from reciprocal points of the compass, there’s no denying the last week has been something of a news cycle letdown. There was no earth-shaking ka-boom. No comets emblazoned the sky. If Greece has not yet collapsed, perhaps because it already has, the Federal Government must be given time to demonstrate its existential centrality to people’s lives. So far a government shutdown seems curiously similar in its essentials to one with all the money it can spend.

How little difference available money makes was emphasized by the utter failure of the Obamacare website launch, which proved the public often got exactly nothing after the bureaucrats spent a billion dollars getting everything they asked for.

And that leads many — wrongly, incorrectly we are told — to doubt the president’s warning that a failure by Congress to raise the debt limit would trigger “chaos”.  Certainly an Obama refusal to negotiate with Congress unless it first agreed to fund disputed programs and raise the borrowing limit meant he could run the risk of “chaos”, doesn’t it?

The role of threats was illustrated by the confrontation between Kasper Gutman and Sam Spade in the Maltese Falcon. In that classic novel, Gutman needed Spade to tell him where the jeweled bird was. Gutman needed Spade and Spade knew it. So how was Gutman going to coerce Spade into giving it up?

Sam Spade: If you kill me, how are you going get the bird? And if I know you can’t afford to kill me, how are you going to scare me into giving it to you?

Kasper Gutman: Well, sir, there are other means of persuasion besides killing and threatening to kill.

Sam Spade: Yes, that’s… That’s true. But, there’re none of them any good unless the threat of death is behind them. You see what I mean? If you start something, I’ll make it a matter of your having to kill me or call it off.

Kasper Gutman: That’s an attitude, sir, that calls for the most delicate judgment on both sides. Because, as you know, sir, in the heat of action men are likely to forget where their best interests lie and let their emotions carry them away.

Sam Spade: Then the trick from my angle is to make my play strong enough to tie you up, but not make you mad enough to bump me off against your better judgment.

Kasper Gutman: By gad, sir, you are a character.

In these sparse, brilliant lines, Hammett describes how the asymmetry of desire between Gutman and Spade settles the issue. Gutman was obsessed with the Maltese Falcon (“the stuff that dreams are made of”) but on the other hand Spade was even more unreasonably attached to the idea of his unyielding self.

He would not give in and would make a point of not giving in.

Gutman understood — indeed believed — that because Spade valued his self-esteem more than his own life, more in fact, than Gutman valued the Falcon that Spade held the higher card.

Going into the shutdown Obama made his play without putting the “threat of death” — political death — behind his pitch to the Republicans. The day after the shutdown should have been attended by the earth-shattering kaboom. But it didn’t happen. And that weakened Obama’s position. Each day the sky doesn’t fall; each hour that chaos delays its predicted arrival must embolden his rivals even more.

Nor is the clock neutral in this confrontation. Missing deadlines hurts the incumbent than the party out of power. Obama cannot relish his exclusion from the levers of prestige and power he was accustomed to pull. For example, not being able to attend summits in Asia nor any forthcoming foreign event while the crisis lasts pinches Obama more than Boehner.  After all Boehner’s not even invited to those fetes but Obama is.

This situation can potentially be resolved in only one of two ways. The President must break the impasse either by producing an earth shaking kaboom or quietly putting the political gat away and making real concessions to the conservative wing of the Republican party. In other words he can offer the conservatives a deal the way the Gutman offered Spade money if he produced the Falcon.

But talking tough without a plan for carrying it through will not yield much. The point was again memorably made by Hammett in describing Spade’s treatment of Wilmer Cook.

Wilmer Cook: Keep on riding me and they’re gonna be picking iron out of your liver.

Sam Spade: The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter.

Wilmer was “cheap” because he wouldn’t do anything without Gutman’s OK; and Spade already knew what Gutman wouldn’t do. So Obama’s new round of threats are cheap unless he’s willing to really inflict inconvenience on the American people. And once he makes that play he’s bet the farm, a prospect which must give him pause. Besides,the public may have realized it’s not a choice between anarchy and competent government but a choice between the chaos predicted by Obama and the chaos that is Obama.

As Victor Davis Hanson pointed out the worse an administration’s governance is, the less people worry about their threats to withhold it. The Obama administration can be described in terms of the bad restaurant paradox. The worse the food, the less you care about the size of the portions.

The administration’s first mistake was in making threats it could not carry out, unlike Gutman who knew better than get in over his head. It may be making the second mistake, talking tough like Wilmer yet afraid to act. Obama’s only consolation is that Boehner is no Sam Spade. But that’s poor consolation when the only way out of the corner of having to pay for promises he can’t keep is for the president to cut his political throat in front of the public just to show that this time, he means it.

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Top Rated Comments   
And hang Obama with Lois Lerner's private emails.

"Mens Rea: Lois Lerner Sent Confidential Taxpayer Information Through Private Emails

Why is that important? Consciousness of guilt. It is a well-known trick of our Federal Masters that they will resort to using private emails -- safely immune from automatic record-keeping, and generally not subpoenaed (unless you know exactly what you're looking for) -- for their more, um, controversial missives.

We knew she had the actus reus -- the guilty act. But she could always say "Serious You Guys, I didn't know the rules, I made a mistake."

But here now the mens rea, the guilty mind. Why does this illegal activity just happen to occur in private email, if not due to knowledge it is in fact illegal?"

Everyone hates the IRS. Obama was in bed with Lois Lerner.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I am reminded of Gettysburg, of all things. Neither side intended it to be the site of the oncoming battle. It was a meeting engagement where the forces arrived in dribs and drabs that turned into the pivotal battle.

The Enemies of our country did not intend this to be a fight to the death. They expected nothing but the usual Republican capitulation and unopposed victory. Obamacare would be imposed, and another nail placed in the coffin of freedom. The Democrat-controlled media would cover the Left, and the march to the New Socialist Man would continue.

On the other side, Boehner and McConnell wanted nothing more than to give the Enemy the victory they wanted, and to use the issues to destroy those few in Congress who believed in the Constitution.

Obama may yet win. But it will not be without cost, as it usually is. And the stakes are rising most uncomfortably for the Institutional Republicans. They had so many chances to yield; the CR, the Debt Ceiling, Amnesty. And if they could have finessed the CR, they had hope of doing the same for the other two. And still, perhaps have kept the Party together enough to eke out enough seats to keep the perks flowing.

Now, now things are different. Boehner and McConnell had to declare open warfare on their own base to try to suppress the battle, and they failed. If they cave now; there will not be a Republican Party in 2014. And if they break even, with the CR, they cannot cave openly on the other two. They have to at least pretend to fight; which is more than they have done for a decade. Or join the Whigs very, very soon.

If Boehner cannot openly capitulate, then this could go on for some time. And that means Obama has to do something, anything, to change the correlation of forces.

He has already declared open "government-fare" against the middle class, veterans, and patriots. And while he has not reaped the proper consequences due to the coverage of the media; he has not intimidated those he has attacked. In fact, he has infuriated them. And that makes it harder for Boehner and McConnell to surrender.

So; having shut down parks, insulted and attacked veterans, barred Americans from monuments that they paid for [while throwing them open to foreign nationals to lobby to destroy our sovereignty], having evicted Americans from their homes that they have paid for, selectively blocked off Federal roads to trap children at school with no route home to their parents [Tennessee], cut off the benefits to the survivors of American military personnel killed in action, had "Bambi's Brownshirts" [National Park Service Rangers] hold people [including foreign nationals] as literal prisoners in Yellowstone, cut off the Amber Alert system, all the while wasting money at a record pace ---- what is next?

The Institutionals don't want to fight, and will not escalate. Imagine how it would be different if say the House cut the National Parks' personnel budget in response to barring the Veterans from the WW-II Memorial. But they won't.

Obama, on the other hand, has nothing left but to double down. All he has left is the political equivalent of Pickett's Charge. He may win, but he will destroy the remaining legitimacy [a shrinking commodity, that] of the Federal government. And peoples' patience with that government is on its last nerve. I have been saying that the unpleasantness will be triggered by government over-reach. They are moving, and somewhere, somehow, there will be a reaction.

The Federal government has deliberately positioned itself as the enemy of the American people. It is what it is.

Subotai Bahadur
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Saw a story on Drudge today about how a group of elderly folks were basically held hostage and threatened for daring to take pictures at Yellowstone.

The park rangers' behavior was very revealing. They are acting not as Americans first, but as public employees who put their own financial desires ahead of every other consideration and every other human being. Hopped up on the corrosive and borderline violent rhetoric of the Democrats - Obama in particular - it is obvious that they have bought into the notion that this is a fight to the death for their precious guaranteed magic check. They are no different from those execrable public schoolteachers that Scott Walker stared down.

They have completely bought into the notion that if those damn taxpayers won't give them everything they want financially they will use whatever means necessary to bludgeon the taxpayers into doing so. And they really mean that - whatever means.

Based upon my experience, way north of 90% of public employees now have this outlook. Some time over the past 30 years they went from understanding that they were the servants of the private sector (whether they liked it or not) to really, truly viewing themselves as the private sector's rulers. If the events that occured with the teachers in Wisconsin, and those of the past week, and the IRS scandal, teach us nothing else, they teach us that the current version of the public sector employee will take every last penny and bit of property from every last private worker and business without an ounce of shame or regret, or they will destroy the nation trying, all the while telling themselves they are in the right.

Do not trust them, and expect violence and larceny from every government worker you know. I think that this will get much, much worse before it gets better.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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Speaking as the wife of a Forest Service employee, I can only say that we are shocked and appalled at the behavior of the Park Service.

I love the National Parks, but right now I have complete contempt for those (dare I say it?) jack booted government thugs.

Please, everyone, take some action. Contact your Congressmen and women, contact the Republican leadership and let them know this is unacceptable.

I think the Park Service is in dire need of some personnel changes.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Subotai: "While there may be some Federal LEO's who will stand with the Constitution, they are few and far between."

Thank you for your assessment, Subotai.

The implication is that the transition from today's unsustainable chaos to something more sustainable is not going to be smooth. And, no, a sustainable outcome would not automatically be an attractive outcome.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
For those of you who think "some sort of deal" can be made on the CR, without at a minimum defunding Obamacare , had better think again.

The massive rate increases that are starting to show up for private insurance are just crushing. With allegedly 79 percent of American families squeezing by paycheck to paycheck , those people simply have no way of paying for multi-thousand dollar increases caused by Obamacare.

Boehner, Ryan and all those other Rino-traitors can talk about about the debt limit and default all they want. Such talk is a sinister, devious diversion away from America' s immediate mega-problem: the cost and the effects of Obamacare.

If Obamacare is allowed to stand, there will be an immediate devastating recession set on top of our continuing, hidden,money printed over Depression. There will be just too much taken out of the average American's pocketbook. America's deficit will skyrocket, and our economy may be pushed past the tipping point where we could recover.

Real Default due to economic fundamentals not political gamesmanship and the possibility of a real debt trap could become an all to real danger.

Conservatives must be tough and clear headed. The debt limit fight can wait. Obamacare must be ended now and not allowed to continue in any form or we are in big trouble.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Well, actually it looks like Boehner is indeed Sam Spade.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Slightly adjacent to topic, why are Catholic priests, or any other denominational clergy, afraid of the Federal government? They have the full backing of the Constitution to defy orders NOT to provide services. Are they just cowards in clerical clothing? Besides, can't they fathom the backlash from the public if they were in any way disciplined for their actions? Disgraceful, weak and near-sighted.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Not raising the debt limit does not automate a default. It means you have to pay your bills on the necessities and end the "nice to haves." What it SHOULD mean is defunding anything not specified in the Constitution until solvent and taking a more responsible approach. Not only is this unlikely to happen it is also unlikely there will be any real change. The ones in a position to change it are the ones skimming from the books. They will never kill the golden goose.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Obama beats a hasty retreat on death gratuities for fallen soldiers.

See Barry run! Run Barry, run!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I'll give Dave Weigel his due, but I can think of another reason why the Republican base is willing to push the GOP to defy Obama, and it isn't because I believe a default would be a non-event.

For my entire life the left has used the threat of mob violence, chaos, and collapse to extort from the body politic an endless list of demands. From the riots of the 1960s to the huge marches by illegal aliens a few years ago to the appearance of "demonstrators" at the homes of people opposing the leftist demand of the day, menace has been a key tool driving the success of folks like Barry Obama. And now he's doing it again with the shutdown. Either we yield completely to his demands or bad things will happen, etc, etc.

I've had enough. I recall a short story by Larry Niven about a hitchhiker who attempts to carjack a suicidal driver. Instead of cringing in terror, the driver stands on the accelerator and invites the carjacker to enjoy the ride.

It seems to me that in many ways the United States has already been fundamentally transformed by the left into a quasi-communist slave society. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, the American people work, and the political class and its legions of indigents eat. I take Obamacare at the heart of it as simply a scheme to obtain enough money to perpetuate this system. Eventually, once Obamacare gets fully in place, I bet the regime will simply take whatever money it wants directly from peoples' bank accounts and pay checks, explaining that it's necessary to pay for "health insurance."

Believing all that, I don't feel too much attachment to the present regime. It resembles the government envisioned by the Founders roughly the way six resembles Sunday- that is, not at all. And as far as I'm concerned we may as well step on the accelerator now and go over the cliff before the institutions of the Republic are completely digested by the left.

Enjoy the ride, Barry.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Moody's has weighed in with some sanity on the debt limit debate.

The revenue coming into the U.S. Treasury is 12 times the amount needed to service the debt. The U.S. will continue to service the debt, and President Petulant will approve of it, because to do anything else would be to undermine their ability to reinitiate deficit spending.

All of the President's squalling is because he's pinched between his desire to stick it to the Republicans and his absolute need to be sure the credit markets will keep lending him money.

My own prediction is that, prior to the 17th, the Dems will cut some kind of deal (assuming the Republicans don't fold like a cheap suit - something they've worked up into sort of an expertise) because the consequences of having it revealed that it's possible to quit borrowing money, structure spending to live within government's means and the sky won't fall, well, it is just too painful for politicians to contemplate. The entire gravy train would be put at risk.

If the 17th were to come and go with the debt service continuing, it would unmask the perfidy of the President and his minions and that can't be allowed to happen.

That's why I expect an 11th hour deal to call off the street theater and resume spending as usual. The political class's addiction to unlimited spending will ensure it. And even if no deal is made, the government will under no circumstances default because doing so would foreclose the opportunity for future profligacy in ways they can't bring themselves to allow.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
But what if the Soros Cabal intends to dramatically short the market and has instructed their President manque to default in order to cause the necessary market collapse. Soros and his Middle Eastern investors intend to OWN the United States.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"Soros and his Middle Eastern investors intend to OWN the United States."

Maybe we can pay them back with depleted Uranium...Or the not quite depleted stuff.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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