- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 26, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION

Stock markets the world over are easy to spook, because that’s where the money is. Sometimes it’s because the traders, like foreigners everywhere, can’t understand American political theater. The soap opera, like vaudeville, cowboy movies and the musical comedy, is an All-American contrivance.

When the American economy spits, to steal an ancient Chinese aphorism, everybody swims. When the American economy sneezes, everybody catches cold. Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats, as reckless as they can be on given occasions, have any intention of taking responsibility for the default that could - “could,” not necessarily “would” - suck the world into a black hole of unknown depth.

Everybody’s nervous about the resolution of the “crisis” in Washington, but when the Asian stock markets opened Monday, there was no mass suicide on the trading floors, no frantic search for a building high enough to jump from. In fact, the traders and investors in both Europe and Asia appear to have been paying attention to the advice of Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the Republican majority whip. He told his caucus to “keep calm and carry on.” This was the philosophy of George Wallace, who, on losing an improbable race for the White House four decades ago, was asked what he intended to do next. “I guess I’ll just keep on keeping on.” It’s what all prudent men do when hysteria beckons.

There are seven days to go before the Aug. 2 deadline, a whole week for the pols to string out the soap opera. The consequences of the debate are huge, with the winner rewriting the rules of the political game for the next generation, or at least for the next election cycle. Neither side can afford to be the first to blink. The rhetoric will grow an even deeper shade of purple as the week wears on.

Nancy Pelosi, relegated to the peanut gallery for the resolution of the struggle, reached for her share of the purple ink Saturday night at a fundraiser for a congressional candidate in Connecticut. She reckons there are two visions of America struggling for dominance. “President Obama has a vision to work for the little guy, the middle class and for all people in our country,” she said. “He is there for 100 percent of Americans, and Republicans are there for 2 percent of Americans.” Class warfare comes naturally to certain Democrats. She was obviously using the arithmetic so beloved in Washington, where you make up your own numbers. By her counting, the two parties are there for 102 percent of all Americans. Who would have thought we had it that good?

John A. Boehner, the speaker of the House and the leader for the moment of the Republicans in Congress, has a full day’s job calming the fears of the timid Republicans, of whom there are always too many, and the anger of the tea party Republicans, of whom there may be just enough. For President Obama, the speaker had a lesson in fundamental civics, once taught in junior-high school before the subject was squeezed out by courses in self-esteem, feminist war heroes and gay studies.

“As I read the Constitution,” Mr. Boehner told the president, “the Congress gets to write the laws, and you get to decide what you want to sign.”

Plain speech like this gives Washington, where euphemism has been raised to high art, the heebie-jeebies. The Democrats won’t speak of raising taxes; they want to increase “revenue.” Who doesn’t like “revenue?” The president boasts of his eagerness to “reform the tax code,” but won’t say he would “reform” the code by decorating it with new taxes to pay for an expanded government.

Lost in the sturm and drang, the clanging of the background music, the thunder of approaching doom and the pipsqueakery of the politicians, the wringing of hands and the decrying of partisanship, is the reality that this is exactly how the political system is meant to work. Debate, argument and contention are what the Founding Fathers prescribed as the means of reaching consensus and resolution. They were not much concerned with bipartisan civility and being nice. Genteel courtesy was for the parlor, not the well of the House. The noise that frightens the more refined pundits, delicate editorialists and the stock-market traders who imagine themselves masters of the universe is merely the sound of the republic at work. Not a symphony by Mozart, exactly, but music to the educated ear.

Wesley Pruden is the editor emeritus of The Washington Times.