The more it looks like the United States is heading for a political and financial train wreck over raising the federal debt limit, which has to be done pronto to avoid a massive panic in the stock and bond markets, not to mention drastically increasing the government's future borrowing costs, the more I put the blame for this fiasco on religion.
Because Congressional Republicans who are "negotiating" with President Obama and Democratic leaders are acting like thou shalt not raise taxes is a divine decree rather than a ridiculous pledge cleverly engineered and promoted by Grover Norquist, a decidedly ungodly guy.
Of the 435 House members, 236 have signed the pledge; of the 100 Senate members, 41 have signed the pledge. Only two are Democrats, showing that this isn't a bipartisan movement. It's Republican political fundamentalism.
Download Federal Pledge Signers
So an effective majority of both the House and Senate (since 41 is more than enough to sustain a filibuster in the Senate) have vowed to never, ever raise taxes even if there is a national emergency.
Can the language of the Pledge be altered to allow exceptions?
No. There are no exceptions to the Pledge. Tax-and-spend politicians often use “emergencies” to justify increasing taxes. In the unfortunate event of a real crisis or natural disaster, the President should propose spending cuts in other areas to finance the emergency response.
This is why Republicans aren't really negotiating with Obama. In a negotiation, there's give and take. But in the talks about raising the debt limit, the Republicans can't give an inch on increasing federal revenues, even when the Democrats are willing to offer half a foot in spending cuts.
I'm convinced that religion is the reason we're in this unholy mess. Most Republicans these days either are genuinely devoted to a rigid form of Christianity, or pretend that they are in order to get evangelical votes.
Yesterday, on my other blog, I wrote about David Chapman's intelligent take on how to live a meaningful life, non-dogmatic Buddhism, and other interesting topics. He sees "eternalism" as one extreme on the meaning-of-life front, with "nihilism" being the other extreme.
The strategy of eternalism is to deny the ambiguity. Despite appearances, it says, everything does have a clear and definite meaning, which is not merely subjective. We might not perceive it, or we might mistake it, but it exists.
The appeal of eternalism is that questions of life-purpose and ethics have clear, simple answers. If you act in accordance with this Cosmic Plan, you are guaranteed a good outcome. You can be assured that seeming chaos and senseless misery are all orderly parts of the will of an all-good principle.
Most Congressional Republicans are faith-based eternalists in regard to taxes. They believe, without any evidence, that it is never, ever justified to increase federal revenue by raising taxes on anybody -- even on the super rich, the undeserving, or to close absurd loopholes.
How is it possible for Obama and his fellow Democrats to sit in a room at the White House and negotiate with people who hold such a indefensible, rigid, fundamentalist political position?
Plenty of economists, plus the leaders of the Deficit Commission, agree that cutting spending and increasing revenues are both necessary to address our budget problems. But these rational, sensible, fact-based policy experts aren't hamstrung by Grover Norquist's commandment from on high, thou shalt not raise taxes.
I'm not a believer in religious commandments. Morality should spring from a sensitive attunement to the circumstances of a situation, not an abstract concept which has little or no relevance to what's really happening here and now.
I also don't believe in eternalism, though I can understand why people are attracted to the notion that something is unchanging, perfect, and unfailingly trustworthy. If such a thing exists, and I doubt that it does, it wouldn't be a No Tax Increases! pledge.
Yet Republicans are acting as if their salvation depends on following the gospel of Grover Norquist. That's insane. If they don't come to their senses, soon, the United States is in big trouble.