Generally speaking, when the president of the United States calls you pick up the phone. Whether you’re an Iowa farmer, a Chinese prime minister, or Speaker of the House, it goes without saying that when the president calls you answer.
That’s how long it took House Speaker John Boehner to return the president’s telephone call last week. I cannot imagine what he found more important. After all, we’re just days away from what will likely be the worst season of economic calamity to hit American shores since Hurricane Katrina.
Next week, the federal government will reach its “debt limit”, which means it will effectively run out of credit. Financial markets around the world are already on edge and have begun to shudder. Why? Because somebody wanted to play a game of footsy with the American economy.
The debt ceiling has been raised 74 times since 1962, including 18 times during the Reagan administration. Until now, getting congressional authorization to pay the nation’s bills was largely a routine exercise. Until now.
Despite this unprecedented era of strident partisanship, until now we could take a lot of things for granted. For instance, the seemingly small matter of Speaker Boehner answering the telephone when the president calls. Twice in two days, President Obama called and was forced to leave a message. I am willing to wager that this has never once happened in the history of telephones.
As the debt ceiling talks progressed, I followed the updates on Twitter over the weekend. While traditional news outlets posted various status updates, “Black Twitter” was up to something else. The hashtag #beforeBlackpresidents emerged some time Friday evening.
You see #beforeBlackpresidents, it would have been deemed unpatriotic to say you wanted the president to fail. If you raised the debt limit 18 times, as in Ronald Reagan’s case, you would’ve been hailed a hero by the GOP and gotten an airport named in your honor. Intelligence was admired back then. We had a space program and everyone generally recognized that Hawaii was a state.
Back then, it was pretty much okay for the president to vacation with family or play a round of golf. The mere suggestion that we provide healthier school lunches and encourage parents to cook healthy meals wasn’t considered socialism It goes without saying that #beforeBlackpresidents governors didn’t publicly support secession and nobody found it necessary to take their country back.
In a stunning show of unchecked zeal, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said his number one goal was to make Barack Obama a one-term president. Not creating new jobs, not advancing public education, not reforming our tax system or investing in America’s future. McConnell announced that he is wholly devoted to making sure Obama gets a one-way ticket back to Chicago. How does he plan to do that?
From the looks of things, he and his colleagues plan to kill any effort to jump-start the American economy. They seem to believe that if they can just hold on to this bad economy long enough — maintaining the uncertain environment so business won’t invest and Americans will stay out of work — that they can re-take the White House in 2012.
The real deal is they don’t want a deal — not on the debt ceiling or anything else. The president was right to wonder if there was anything the republicans could say “yes” to. The answer is no.
But it isn’t because of some trumped up commitment to so-called core principals. The truth is today’s Republican party is controlled by a fringe group of players who are after one thing: Making sure the first black president is the last.