Saturday, July 23, 2011

Chutzpah

“Tact in audacity is knowing how far you can go without going too far.” –Jean Cocteau, 1889-1963.

Michelle Bachmann can’t pronounce it, but Mitch McConnell’s got it.

Chutzpah is a Yiddish word that means gall, audacity, nerve, impertinence, insolence, hubris, guts, etc. You can probably think of at least one plural spherical synonym that’s very close to its meaning. Rep. Michelle Bachmann, R-MN, said the other day that President Obama had chutzpah, annoying Jewish voters because she pronounced it “choots-pah” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=9_mWlXvKnq8). The pronunciation is closer to “khuts-pah,” and is hard to write in English because we don’t use that sound much.

Rep. Bachmann has often demonstrated her own chutzpah in the past, but Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-KY, takes the Chutzpah Award for the week. That’s quite a feat in this Congress.

McConnell realized that the Teabags in the House of Representatives were not going to let a compromise happen in the current debt ceiling negotiation, so he came up with a face-saving proposal that, as I write this, may actually be what ends this ridiculous but gravely dangerous charade. The minority leader suggested giving Obama the authority to raise the debt ceiling, subject to congressional approval. The House would surely vote against any such increase, but the Senate wouldn’t have the 60 votes necessary to bring it to a vote, so it would go into effect.

Is that clear? Right. As mud.

What’s the point? If Obama raises the debt ceiling, as he must do, all the Republicans can vote against it and blame him for doing it. The only problem is that they have to pass the bill that sets it up.

This is about as clear as the procedure whereby a senator asks for unanimous consent to give a bill a second reading, then objects to his own request. No kidding, that happens. It’s procedural. So is McConnell’s concoction. But if it allows us to move forward without defaulting on our debt payments, I’m all for it.

The chutzpah came in when McConnell was interviewed by talk-show host Laura Ingraham and discussed his plan. He said if Republicans were to force default, President Obama would probably win in 2012. (He said earlier this year that his top priority was to make Obama a one-term president, so he wouldn’t want that.) Voters, he said, might think Republicans were making the economy worse.

(And here comes the chutzpah.) “You know,” he said, “it’s an argument he has a good chance of winning, and all of a sudden we have co-ownership of a bad economy.”

I don’t know whether to respond to that statement with extreme umbrage, outraged astonishment, or bottomless sarcasm, so I think I’ll try all three.

During the Bush Jr. administration, two major wars were begun, one of them under false pretenses, and taxes were cut, twice, because every Republican knows that the only way to improve the economy is to cut taxes. Moreover, for years Republicans had been chipping away at the safeguards on banks and stockbrokers that had been put in place after the Great Depression, and finally, just before Mr. Obama was to take the oath of office, the whole damned thing collapsed.

You own that, Mitch! We’re not about to accept joint tenancy of that fiasco.

Under those watered-down restrictions, those who have and play with money managed to reduce the value of our entire country by about forty percent just weeks before Bush returned to cutting brush in Texas. People were mad, and mad they should have been. But a year and a half later, President Obama hadn’t put everyone back to work, so they voted for the Republicans again.

What McConnell is really saying is that the U.S. electorate has the attention span of a mosquito, and his party has done a pretty good job of blaming Obama for all the ills of the past decade, but if the GOP sticks to its hard-line stand now, voters might just remember that in November of next year. He’s betting that voters won’t remember the vote to give Obama the power to raise the debt ceiling if every Republican in Congress votes against it a few days later when he exercises that power.

The man’s got… uh, chutzpah.

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