Now the real fun begins. Assuming that the debt deal has been effectively sealed — and this looked like a large assumption on the eve of the vote — all that's left is deciding who won the fight over raising the debt limit.
House Speaker John A. Boehner, who spent the day Monday with his whips and nose-counters trying to round up enough votes to keep the "seal" on the deal from coming apart at the edges, concedes that "it's not the greatest deal in the world. But it shows how much we've changed the terms of the debate in this town. There is nothing in this framework that violates our principles. It's all spending cuts."
For once, the conservatives, both the tea party variety and the mainstream conservatives, didn't buckle in the face of the media condescension that usually makes girlie men of Republicans in tight places. When girlie men get to Washington and see themselves surrounded on all sides by boogeymen of the left and under constant sniper fire from the pipsqueaks, they usually mistake the noise of pipsqueakery for the voice of the people who sent them to Congress. Buckling under pressure seemed the better part of what passes for valor in these parts.
The liberal pundits — the "progressives," as liberals insist on calling themselves since they royally stunk up the word "liberal" - tried to label the tea party conservatives as knaves, kooks and cleaned-up Ku Kluxers, to drive them into sullen silence as in the past. This time, that didn't work. The pundits, like the Democrats in Congress, are in a pout because the "sealed" deal doesn't raise taxes, and cuts deep into the blubberhood where big government lives. Paul Krugman, the New York Times columnist who lives in an academic bubble as a tenured professor at Princeton, protected from the rough and robust reality of the real world, complains that he doesn't understand why everyone is talking about cutting the size of government, anyway. The skin on his nose is intact.
"We've got these budget cuts which are entirely — basically the Republicans said, 'We'll blow up the world economy unless you give us exactly what we want.' And the president said, 'OK.' That's what happened." (When you have a Nobel Prize similar to the one the Swedes and the Norwegians gave President Obama for merely being a nice guy, you don't have to speak in coherent sentences.)
President Obama arrived in Washington with schemes and dreams of blowing a bubble big enough to protect everyone from reality, whether they wanted to live in a bubble or not, but he didn't understand that he was arriving just as the party was coming to its drunken conclusion. While Congress squirmed to an agreement on debt "relief," trying to scratch as many itches as it could, Mr. Obama hid out at the White House, dreaming his dreamy dreams of ever-grander grandiloquence and desperate to stay out of the line of fire.
He didn't get the new taxes he wanted, but he got an extension of the debt limit, enabling him to whistle past the 2012 graveyard. He can resurrect all that hopey-changey stuff during the re-election campaign and make everybody forget about all that economic stuff.
The president tried to take a victory lap Monday, hogging as much credit as he dared for an agreement sealed but not delivered, and rewriting a little recent history. The White House put out a statement remarkable for its cheap piety, celebrating an agreement that "removes the cloud of uncertainty over our economy at this critical time, ensuring that no one will be able to use the threat of the nation's first default ... for political gain."
There were no regrets, even implied, for the president's coarse resort to class warfare "for political gain," his threat that unless he prevailed in the debt-crisis debate Granny would not get her Social Security check. He painted a vision of orphanages closed, nursing homes emptied of the old and infirm, gridlocking the interstates with children crying for bread and the starving geezers on walkers and crutches. These were pitiable scenes not seen since the Bataan Death March. Oh, the pity of it all.
But this time, the Republicans and other conservatives did not flinch, their spines stiffened by courage taken from the teapot. Washington hasn't seen a panic like this since Beauregard sent the Federal army scrambling back to Washington from Manassas battlefield in the summer of '61. This was the change we've been hoping for.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.
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