It has been several weeks since lawmakers took this country to the precipice of financial ruin and seemingly reveled in their fleeting power to do so, then gingerly backed us all away.
I can’t help but think they actually enjoyed the ride.
Lord knows we watched every minute unfold in excruciating detail, and at every turn, lawmakers were not laboring in sweat, up at all hours of the night. No, they golfed with each other, sauntered over to the West Wing and sat around while press pools took pictures.
In classic congressional gamesmanship, they kicked the can down the road. Sure, tough decisions were made, but not the toughest. Not the ones that would set us on a path out of default. They agreed to come back in a few months and finish the hard work.
And as lawmakers howled, Wall Street piled on as investors fled. Congress won alright, they just ran this country deeper into a ditch.
That’s the wrong way to win, America. Even worse, the way the debt limit deal was struck only promises more acrimony and bitter partisanship in the weeks and months to come.
Historically, great crises produce times of political detente in Washington. The Social Security crisis of the early ’80s. The deep recessions and subsequent Kemp-Roth reforms of 1981. The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Those are but three examples of when both parties came together to enact some difficult but landmark policies.
In the wake of those tough fights, where both sides gave a little, there was an era of comity. Oh, it didn’t last for long, but it was there. It was a time when legislators were reminded why they had come to Washington in the first place. They reflected on their great stations in history and how the threads of their own stories would weave into the fabric and future of this nation.
Fast-forward to 2011, and none of that is occurring today. The president signed the debt bill with little fanfare, passing over an opportunity to reassure markets and the American people. On a Friday just days following a monumental crisis being averted, both parties once again fired artillery rounds at the other over an anemic jobs report. Republicans say this president doesn’t know how to stimulate the economy. Democrats blame the fringe wing of Republicans for blocking stimulus policies.
It’s as if neither side has a clue of just how close we as a nation came to falling flat on our faces. And they seem even less interested in returning to the important work that must begin in earnest to keep the United States solvent.
It’s fair to say we are no longer interested in who is to blame, and we gave up long ago on who should get the credit. For a town fixated on process, Republicans and Democrats both missed the largest lesson of all to be learned from their brinkmanship in early August: They could leverage this “win” into a new era. Both parties have been brought to this moment in American history for different reasons, but they are here nonetheless, and now they face a common enemy. In our nation’s finest hours, we have come together to battle common enemies and win.
Yet as clear as the enemies of default and spending are, neither side seems willing to embrace this seminal moment and do the right thing. Even those who would be president are on the sidelines, stirring the dirt with their toes and hoping they’re not asked to weigh in on such presidential-worthy tests.
The debt-ceiling crisis of 2011 could go down in the annals of history as one of America’s finest hours. It could be remembered as the last decade when the people said it was alright to spend more than we could afford. However, if that does occur and history is made, I fear it will be in spite of this current Congress-not because of them.
Armstrong Williams content can be found on RightSideWire.com. He is also the author of the new book “Reawakening Virtues.” Listen to him daily on Sirius Power 128, 7-8 p.m. and 4-5 a.m., Monday through Friday. Become a fan on Facebook at www.facebook.com/arightside and follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/arightside.