The debt ceiling deal has exposed our political system to be a lot like a bad marriage that perpetuates itself only when both parties to it tacitly agree to keep the relationship wholly superficial and at all costs avoid confronting the truth. It requires not only duplicity, but pretense, cynicism, hypocrisy, and a near complete abandonment of hope.
The details of the debt ceiling agreement are convoluted, upon which the illusion of substantive progress depends. But in fact most of the hard work has been left to the future, and that time-honored political dodge – a commission. As in a bad marriage there is so little confidence of it improving that even future action to reduce federal spending is predicated on automatic triggers rather than thoughtful deliberation.
Most observers would not have thought it possible for politicians to abdicate their responsibilities, let alone their principles, even further than they had over the past few weeks of negotiations. But with the final deal they managed to create a living monument to such cowardice.
The weak smiles of Senators Harry Reid and Charles Schumer walking through a Capitol corridor and captured on the front page of many papers the day the deal was done, betrayed the embarrassment of leading a party that has evolved, at least for now, into a paler, weaker version of their Republican counterpart. And President Obama, who put getting a deal ahead of his own once eloquently stated ideals, has unintentionally shown us just how much audacity it does take to continue to hope.