After one false start in failing to join the League of Nations after WW1, the most powerful elements of American society have successfully stood together to expand, express, and protect America’s influence as a great power. Without altering the US constitution’s rigid division of powers or their sense of themselves as rugged individualists, business leaders, unions, Republicans, Democrats, lifelong legislators, presidential aspirants, and powerful presidents have consistently been able to find timely agreement on how to wield American power and maintain its credibility internationally.
This facility for strategic global decision-making has led to mishaps and often is damned by both the right and left. Global interests and responsibilities have frustrated those who’d decentralize US government and those who’d use it more effectively at home. However, it survived Vietnam and Iraq. It recently also saved the New Start Treaty with Russia, and, in large measure, pulled the world out of the financial crisis of 2008. The BRICs and Western Europe would like to operate in a more collegial global management structure. However, up until now, none are running for cover for fear the US can’t lead or keep its word.
The approaching presidential request to Congress to raise the $14.25 trillion ceiling on federal borrowing could be the last straw. All sides in Washington, as well as the world, know that the US government can’t stop borrowing and that America’s credibility as a borrower is critical not only to its future good health but to the world’s economic stability. Furthermore, the Republicans don’t need another crisis to bring Obama to the table; he needs a credible long-term fiscal agreement as badly as they insist they want one. The test of competence isn’t high or avoidable: when the alternative—stop servicing US debt and declare bankruptcy—is crazy, you don’t pretend to have an option.
When the stakes are high, a sane political system doesn’t play games. Yet, that’s the spectacle that’s unfolding today.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, both Democrat and Republican budget plans require further years of trillion-dollar deficits and more borrowing. No one has any alternative to raise the debt ceiling without turning the US into a rogue state. So, in effect, the only credible basis for House Republicans to extract “concessions” from the president is to shrug any responsibility for maintaining the United States’ influence and stature in the world.
(Daring to refuse to raise the debt ceiling evokes the famous “crazy man in the White House” theory that was popular during the Nixon presidency. It was whispered that the nuclear deterrent was credible because the president was just crazy enough to use it.)
The Tea Party is free to play the “crazy man” role. However, John Boehner, as the House of Representative Majority Leader, is surely not. For the sake of their own skins, if not America’s global standing, it’s time for that infamous US business-political elite to remind Boehner that he holds an office that is part of America’s global management consensus.
America’s credibility cannot be maintained if only the president is bound to uphold the United States’ global obligations.