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Port: All I have to offer you is despair

We do actually have a very large nation that needs to be governed by our elected leaders in between furious tweets and cable news segments.

The Capitol building
The Capitol building in Washington.
Sarah Silbiger / Copyright 2018 The New York Times

MINOT, N.D. — Another year, another holiday season marred by brinksmanship and bickering in Washington D.C. as our elected leaders struggle to do even the basics of governing.

Congress managed to raise the debt ceiling this week, a necessary evil given the deficits racked up by the pandemic era's spend-a-palooza. This was done just in time to avoid a first-in-history default on the national debt.

It was mostly Democrats who voted to raise the debt ceiling while Republicans postured themselves as principled fiscal hawks and opposed it, though someone ought to tell the GOP that, as anyone who has managed a household budget knows, the time to be principled on financial matters is when you're shopping and not when the credit card bill comes due.

So, congratulations to Congress, I guess, on managing to muster just enough cooperation with one another to avoid the embarrassing spectacle of the United States of America telling our creditors we can't pay our debts.

At another time in American history, this news would be alarming. These days it's all so typical. The politicians go through the choreographed rituals of debt limit combat - Democrats only want to raise taxes, Republicans only want to lower them, and nobody really wants to slow the spending - while the voting public feigns concern on their way to reading up on real news.


A school official frustrated with a reporter's coverage was able to convince a law enforcement agent to launch an investigation that included seizing that reporter's phone so she could comb through all the personal and professional information on it. That shouldn't have happened, and it cannot happen again.

Like maybe a celebrity got caught parking in a handicapped space.

Or another teacher got caught doing lewd things with a student.

You know. The stuff that really matters.

Our political leaders aren't going to care about making tough budget decisions until the electorate cares, and that's not happening any time soon. Americans, including the supposed "conservatives" in Donald Trump's Republican party, are obsessed with the culture war and are fine with massive budget deficits and skyrocketing debt as long as it means the federal government will keep spending high and taxes low.

We can't do both of those things indefinitely, but rank-and-file voters don't believe they'll ever actually be responsible for the debt (maybe Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos will pay for it!), and the politicians figure their careers in office will be over before it becomes a real problem.

So it goes.

If we're only going to pretend to care about prudent budgeting, could we at least detach those theatrics from other policies that actually matter?

Would it be possible for Congress to put all the things they can find common ground on into a bill, and then pass that bill, before moving on to the shouty soap opera of budget intransigence?


I realize that's a bit like asking children to eat their vegetables before they get dessert - never a popular demand, this father of three can tell you - but we do actually have a very large nation that needs to be governed by our elected leaders in between furious tweets and cable news segments.

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