Milbank’s new column has these headlines, print and online:
A reckless body
Lawmakers’ fiscal gambles are worse than the sexual ones
Milbank writes, “The naked truth is that his Twitter problem has more to do with the perilous state of the nation’s finances than you might think.” His point is that recklessness and lies — driven by “a sense of invincibility” — are the norm for Capitol Hill lawmakers:
To make it to Congress, lawmakers have already been successful, and lucky. They stood out in their state legislatures, their businesses or their military careers. Once in office, they are surrounded by sycophantic staffers and lobbyist supplicants. Their members-only perks include drivers, special treatment on airplanes and the power to skip metal detectors. Because so few of them come from competitive districts, their lopsided victories and adoring supporters make them more and more impressed with their own might.
To amuse themselves, and to test their power, many of them take risks — a small gift, a playful remark, a bit of rhetorical excess — and, each time they get away with it, they become more convinced of their invincibility. They become thrill-seeking adolescents, taking ever-greater risks until they retire or get caught.
He then goes on to say “while recklessness is pervasive in Washington, most of the time it’s not sexual or financial but professional.” By that he means primarily the failure to address the deficit or the debt limit, which is “part of a regular game of chicken legislators have enjoyed on budget deals.”
He ends by pointing out, “Lawmakers will have an easier time justifying that to their wives, but it’s the same delusion of invincibility that led Weiner to risk his career. In fact, we’d be better off if lawmakers gambled more with their private parts and less with the public good.”
As I’ve written many times, though, it is Congress’s lies and recklessness about global warming that are a far graver threat to the public good than the ones concerning the budget:
As a long-term concern, the deficit pales in comparison with the threat caused by human-caused climate change, which is rapidly approaching irreversibility and will devastate the lives of billions of people, for many decades if not centuries (see Royal Society special issue details ‘hellish vision’ of 7°F (4°C) world which we may face in the 2060s! and A stunning year in climate science reveals that human civilization is on the precipice).
Moreover, we could do very little about the deficit for a decade or more and still address the problem in a simple and straightforward (albeit painful) fashion in the 2020s. But doing very little about climate change for a decade or more makes averting multiple catastrophes infinitely more complicated. Indeed, the recent “Critical Decade” report by the Australian Climate Commission we must says act now or “the global climate may be so irreversibly altered we will struggle to maintain our present way of life.”
And yet most political thought leaders make countless pronouncements about the dangers of deficits while remaining either uneducated or willfully ignorant on climate.
Fundamentally, policymakers don’t get it when it comes to climate change, but arguably they don’t get it when it comes to most issues. What drives the obsession with deficits is that the GOP uses deficits as a stalking horse for eviscerating government. The public doesn’t actually care much about deficits, except in economic hard times, when conservatives are able to conflate our economic problems with our deficit problem — and when progressives are too feckless to stand up for the importance of government spending, and especially government investment, to both short-term and long-term economic health.
Finally, the media sees its role as promoters of good government, narrowly defined. That is, the punditocracy feels big deficits are inherently a sign of bad government, so they legitimize the debate and the “courage” of those who propose politically untenable solutions to the deficit.
Since most of the DC punditocracy doesn’t understand the dire climate situation, they just treat it as one more political issue that, right now, seems to be a loser. If Milbank understood climate at all, he’d realize that the public good isn’t being endangered by our lies and recklessness about the deficit policy anywhere near as much as it is by our lies and recklessness about global warming.