What we're seeing is this: a cross between The Missiles of October and Dr. Strangelove — a standoff of nuclear proportions.
A nation stands on the brink of — stock-market armageddon? A credit-rating mushroom cloud?
By air, the missiles of a warring party — the tea party — are observed registering red on the map, anti-tax drones beep-beep-beeping their way toward the mainland. By sea, unidentified crafts creep toward cataclysm. The Pentagon asks reconnaissance: political destroyers or rhetorical shrimp boats?
The president seeks to rally the nation with a prime-time address. A menacing House Speaker John Boehner follows, pulling out a golf shoe, hammers it on the lecturn, and implies that unless the White House and Senate capitulate to Republican demands, in so many words: "We will bury you."
Our president hopes for a Missiles of October ending, with everyone unscathed as the red menace backs down. The Republicans seem intent on a Strangelove ending, when one cowboy (Eric Cantor? Michelle Bachmann?) rides a nuclear bomb to oblivion, setting off a doomsday chain of detonations.
Regardless, today innocents stand alert, scanning the horizon.
As President Obama said Monday night, the voters asked for a divided government, not paralyzed government. Fiscal jihadists in the House are dedicated to the latter, with belts of explosives hugging their hips.
Anti-debt? Funny, they have been just dedicated for three decades to driving up the national debt. And why? They knew that one day (today?) it would have to be resolved by strangling government. Deficit by design, courtesy of Reagan, Bush, Bush.
Back in the 1980s these Republicans had the chutzpah to propose a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. Yeah, and pigs would wear lobster bibs. These people were absolutely oblivious to debt and deficits. What they wanted was lower and more regressive tax rates. The rest of the fiscal mix could go stew.
House Republicans again are going to the well with such an amendment, a truly miserable idea that would be like having today's argument every hour instead of every budget cycle.
Governments have to borrow, and governments have to address the unexpected. The worn cliche comparing a government budget to a family's is past inane. A family cannot declare war. A government cannot declare bankruptcy.
What would happen under a balanced budget amendment would be that Congress would declare fiscal emergencies as often as it raises the flag, or as it raised the debt ceiling (18 times) under Reagan and (seven times) under G.W. Bush.
Americans should be sick of the comedic shtick of fiscal "conservatives" who, among other things, financed two wars off the books. King's X: Those billions and billions didn't count toward the federal deficit cited by the Bush White House. They were "continuing allocations" — emergency funds.
Total costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan allocated by Congress so far: $1.26 trillion (see costofwar.com).
Watch these fiscal lotharios — that means you, Mr. Speaker — assail Obama for spending willy nilly. The difference: While trying to wind down the nation's crippling military obligations, Obama focused spending on needs here. Yes: Transportation projects here. Alternative energy here. Rescuing automakers here. Creating a million jobs here. Averting a second Great Depression here. It was interesting to hear Boehner say that the Obama stimulus plan amounted to squat. We have to assume through simple arithmetic that the GOP-Bush approach to economic stimulus produced even less.
Obama is absolutely right that a balanced deficit reduction is what the nation needs. But here's the matter of balance that matters most, the reason why he should call the Republicans' bluff, as Kennedy did with the Soviets in those tense days in the fall of 1962.
The tea party Republicans are comporting themselves as if they are the only legitimate voice of the people, as if the other chamber is illegitimate, and so is the president. Contrary to its protests (and like the Soviets), the tea party is a one-party instrument that isn't interested in power sharing or anything approaching consensus. It knows the answers, and isn't taking any questions.
Beep, beep, beep. We watch the screen. Mr. President, don't be the one to blink.
Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: email@example.com.