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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Pandering to partisans

by John Brummett | May 30, 2023 at 3:39 a.m.

Partisans are the problem, along with uninformed people.

Then, of course, there are the politicians who protect above all else their treasured incumbency, which is important only to them. Most anyone could do their jobs better simply by not flirting with global economic calamity.

These politicians protect that incumbency by pandering to the partisans and exploiting the uninformed.

Nothing, thus, is more valuable to contemporary American politicians than this winning combination:

A hyperpartisan voter who loves or hates them. Either way is useful, whether for a vote no matter what, or a foe to demonize.

An uninformed person who'll fall for what they tell him if they get to him before the other side does, or more shamelessly, frequently and expensively than the other side does.

One hardly knows where to begin one's lamentation about the tragic findings of a poll done last week for CNN on, among other things, but most urgently, the debt-ceiling issue and people's attitudes about it.

Is it that only 50 percent of respondents were keeping up with the matter of the nation being on the brink of not being able to pay on its debt, risking severe national and likely global economic instability, or maybe paying on debt by withholding seniors' Social Security checks in June and perhaps beyond? The last time the political malfeasants in Washington played brinkmanship this recklessly, in 2011, polls showed 70 percent paying close attention. Now the politicians are even worse and more people are demanding less of the politicians, and getting it.

Is it that respondents favor by 60 percent that the debt ceiling be raised along with spending cuts, reflecting a superficial understanding based on words put together that sound good, when in fact those are two unrelated imperatives actually at loggerheads--one that is utterly essential imminently and the other necessary going forward to keep us from having to go through this debt-ceiling nonsense so often?

Is it that 71 percent of respondents said not raising the debt ceiling would cause a financial crisis for the country while only 35 percent thought it would cause financial distress to them personally? One can hardly say which is more alarming or distressing--that people don't care about their government or that they don't comprehend that they are the government and that a global economic meltdown would hurt everyone.

It's indeed difficult ranking those poll findings in order of tragedy reflected and portended. But I suspect they're all exceeded as tragedy by this finding: Of the poll respondents defining themselves as solidly partisan one way or the other, and asked which they feared most between the government's defaulting on debt or their party giving away too much in negotiations, 73 percent of Democrats and 73 percent of Republicans said they feared most that their party would give up too much.

It used to be an accusation--caring more about party than country. Now it's empirically baked into the national cake.

The politicians look at that finding and say they have no choice--as long as personal re-election is the point--other than to emphasize their own individual and partisan emergence as winners in negotiations rather than the nation's ability to be adult and sane with a simple practical solution to an imminent threat.

I don't care which party more credibly claims victory. I care only that paying bills gets settled.

I assume the Republicans will fare better in post-crisis spin considering that, in the poll, 60 percent embrace the GOP position--raise the debt ceiling with spending cuts--while only 24 percent go for Biden's hollow insistence that the debt ceiling must be raised without negotiations and that the negotiations in which he's currently forced to engage are ... you know, different.

Even when Biden is right, he sounds wrong.

(DROP CAP) I don't care if Bernie Sanders ends up outraged one way and Matt Gaetz the other. I would prefer and celebrate it. The government doesn't work otherwise.

I'll take freezing the next few budgets on 2022 spending levels if that will avoid debt default, because debt default is worse.

I'll say "oh, well" to a work requirement on a few non-Medicaid elements of the social safety net, because debt default is worse.

I'll accept speedier energy exploration permits, because debt default is worse.

Partisanship won't make any difference in the end anyway. Half of Americans aren't paying attention and will believe whatever they're told more loudly.

Three-fourths of party members are so locked in they will vote "D" or "R" regardless. That's because it's important that both parties be well-armed for the next round of malfeasance.

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

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