Oliver Cromwell is one of the more quotable political figures in history. From his instruction to Sir Peter Lely to
"Paint me as I am, warts and all",
to his irate dismissal of the rump Parliament:
"You have sat here too long for any good you have been doing lately. Depart I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, Go!",
Cromwell is still widely quoted, even if people may not be conscious of the source.
It was this last quote that came into my head as I contemplated the self serving cant put out by the Tea Party Congressmen in the seemingly never ending debate to increase the US debt ceiling. As various of the malcontents noisily slipped away to various chapels to commune with their Creator in a hypocritical display of discount piety, I began to believe that it might be impossible for any bill to be passed by the House of Representatives. In the end, one has been, passed, albeit an unworkable one and even that only by the slimmest of margins.
I was not aware that it was any kind of morality, still less right-wing morality, to repudiate your debts, yet that is what the Tea Party is prepared to do. The bills are already in, the money has been spent, but Congress has dithered about whether it wants to pay. The minority faction in the Republican Party has held their shallow and ineffectual leader, Mr Speaker Boehner, up to ridicule and the the rest of the United States to ransom, because they think it justified, even moral, not to pay their debts.
Like many, I have watched appalled as the United States has created the largest debt in history. The irresponsibility of cutting taxation whilst still increasing expenditure on everything from the Armed Forces to welfare rolls and expecting the rest of the planet to pay the difference, was an act of astonishing economic vandalism. Ever more, I rue the day when George W. Bush entered the Oval Office, despite losing the popular vote by half a million, and embarked on an irresponsible frenzy of tax cuts- which even accelerated when it became clear that the 43rd President would now face massive expenditure to face down the threat of Al Qaida after the horrors of 9/11. Truly, if ever a President could be judged economically foolish and irresponsible: it was he. No wonder he has kept a low profile since leaving office.
So the Republican Party, having destroyed the economic stability of the Federal Government through ill judged and irresponsible decisions by George W Bush, now seems set to complete the process through total irresponsibility in the handling of the credit crisis by the Republican controlled House of Representatives.
Yet what of President Obama? As with all politicians, he too has made his compromises, his health care polices, well-intentioned as they may have been, still need major work if they are to deliver what is expected of them. US health care costs are now the highest in the world by some margin, and it is even possible that the new program will increase them. Yet in a time of American economic weakness it is hard to see that it makes sense to leave the welfare-dependent poor penniless and without health care. This, of course is what Mr. Obama accuses his critics of wanting, yet it is easy to point out that the President too is working for his constituency as much as the Congress works for theirs.
My experience of mainstream US Republicans does not reflect the accusations that the President makes. However, if we are take seriously the statements of the Tea Party leaders, then there is now a new species of economic illiteracy at large in America: the dogmatic "right".
The Tea Party takes a contemptuously Puritian view of compromise. Informed by the professed certainties of invincible faith in the autarkic dogmas of a limited number of ideologists, they refuse to countenance any truck with views at odds with their own. It is this inflexibility that lies at the root of the split in the Republican Party, which has been so damaging to the country.
As another Puritan in another time might have put it:
"I beseech ye, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that ye may be mistaken".