As America lurches toward new and unfamiliar status as a nation that defaults on its debts, commentators around the world are wondering how the democratic government that was once the most admired in the world -- for many reasons -- is now so "dysfunctional," to use the polite term. But the truth is that the entire U.S. government is not dysfunctional. Much of the government functions well enough or better, and even the members of the troubled U.S. Senate seem to be trying, a little late, to deal with the problem before us.
No, dysfunctional is the too-polite term for the House of Representatives, specifically its dominant tea party Republicans, who can be described in far less dainty psychological terms. Even the most extreme Republican partisans in the Senate seem to realize that their House colleagues, seized by some combination of ideology, madness and pig ignorance, are propelling the country and the world toward economic chaos.
Of course, the tea party Republicans insist that no such thing will ever happen -- the warnings from economists, business leaders, financiers and public officials are merely so much "scare talk."
When President Obama says that he won't be able to send out Social Security and Veterans Administration checks or meet the nation's obligations on Treasury debt come Aug. 2, he is just trying to frighten his opponents into giving up their principles. They don't accept the idea that we have to pay for financial obligations already incurred -- or that the rising interest rates caused by default will make future deficits much deeper.
But they don't have to believe the president to understand that the threat posed by default is real. They could listen to ultra-conservative senators like Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga. -- members of the Gang of Six/Seven whose own profound ideological hostility to Obama and the Democrats still leaves space for prudence.
Or they could listen to more than 60 business groups, from the National Association of Manufacturers and the Chamber of Commerce to the Telecommunications Industry Association and the American Gas Association, all fearful of the consequences of default. Now those business lobbyists may find out why it isn't so smart to fund any bozo running for office who claims to support "free enterprise."
It is revealing to listen to the congressional freshmen affiliated with the tea party as the debt clock ticks down and panic begins to set in. Many of them have repeatedly vowed to vote down any bill to increase the debt limit, but somehow they're sure that if those checks don't go out and that debt doesn't get paid, it will be the president's fault and not theirs. Some say there is no reason why the Treasury should miss any of its bond payments. Others have sent a letter to the White House, urging Obama to "prioritize" those Social Security checks if worse comes to worst.
Such outbursts prove that the tea party is not only against taxes and spending, but is strictly opposed to arithmetic, which like climate science is probably just another socialist plot. They also prove the utter insincerity of these characters, who just voted this week for the "Cut, Cap and Balance" bill that would gut Social Security, along with Medicare, while erecting a constitutional wall around tax breaks for society's wealthiest individuals and corporations. They want to pose as defenders of the middle-class and the American dream, even as they promote legislation that would destroy the programs and institutions that are the foundation of that way of life.
There is no need to look too far to find the source of our discontent -- our "dysfunction," if you must. It is in the Congress, which the American people mistakenly turned over to fakers and fools last November. Every poll shows that most voters regret that error now, and wish that Congress would tax the wealthy and preserve social insurance. Now those voter had better make their remorse heard, and loudly, if they hope to avert catastrophe.