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A Love Letter to a Columnist

I love you, Jonathan Chait. I never want to be without you or your ridiculous brilliance. In a stroke of accidental genius, New York magazine columnist Chait stripped bare the mask of establishment journalism, revealing himself and his ilk so perfectly that I wanted to pull over on Ventura Boulevard, get out of the car, and give the man a standing ovation. 

During an interview Steve Inskeep NPR’s Morning Edition, Chait declared that adding any policy changes to a debt ceiling bill establishes a dangerous precedent and should be avoided at all cost.

“If the president was more sociopathic, or more able to feign sociopathy . . . then this reordering of the political system would favor the more ruthless actors in the political system,” said Chait.

It’s absolutely outrageous, he continued, that a group of politicians would use political brinkmanship in an effort to advance their agenda, as Tea Party Republicans have just done in the battle over previous debt ceiling increases, and in their tactic of blocking budgets and appropriations bills, as well as Obamacare.

“What if when Democrats took control of Congress in 2006, they said to President Bush, ‘Your tax cuts have created to a budget crisis, your Iraq war has created a budget and foreign policy crisis? You must stop these things, or else we won’t raise the debt ceiling.’ Would that have been acceptable tactics to Republicans? And I think the answer is no. They wouldn’t have been acceptable, and they shouldn’t have been acceptable.”

Is that right? In reference to then-senator Barack Obama’s vote against raising the debt ceiling, Chait went on to imply that the Democrats’ 2006 stand against the debt ceiling increase was fine, because it was all for show:

I think it’s worth distinguishing the way the debt ceiling has been used politically before, and the way it’s being used now. Before, it was an opportunity for the opposition party to posture against the president, to give speeches denouncing the president’s fiscal irresponsibility. . . . The Democrats allowed it to pass with 52 votes rather than 60 votes, because they weren’t actually trying to stop it. They wanted to force Republicans to vote for it. They wanted to give speeches about the deficit, and they wanted it to pass.

[The Democrats] did not ask for any policy concessions in return for [the measure] passing.

What a glorious, wonderful, delicious sponge cake of meaninglessness! Chait actually seems to believe that the way our system should work is by the opposition giving some speeches about their political position but not meaning anything by it because, at the end of the day, both parties support increasing the debt limit. And that’s how politics are supposed to work: dithering bloviating.

Chait believes the Democrats did right to oppose the Bush-created budget crisis and the Iraq war, though not excessively—certainly not in a way that might have been a real impediment to that administration’s success. He believes that the role of the opposition party is just to “give speeches” and “posture against the president,” but only if they aren’t “actually trying to stop” the offending policy.

In other words, those Tea Party bastards were bastards, not because of their political stance, but because they tried to stop the very thing they have said they’ve wanted to stop, which is apparently an outrageous violation of the agreed-upon terms of respectable American politics. Didn’t they know it’s all supposed to be empty theatrical posturing?

Chait concedes that the system he is rooting for is flawed. “It’s silly,” he told Inskeep. “But at least [2006] was an innocuous situation and the grounds for hypocrisy and insulting the intelligence of the American people, as opposed to actually threatening the world economy.”

“And that’s where you think we’re at?” asked Inskeep. “Insulting the intelligence of the American people is a better world than the world we’re in now?”

“I’d like to get back to that world,” said Chait.

Thank you, Jonathan Chait. Thank you very much, indeed.