Having lived in the former Soviet Union for 10 years, I will forever have plastered to the back of my cerebellum the commemorative bumper sticker: “WWSD?”
What Would Stalin Do? It’s a useful question to ask sometimes, because it offers valuable perspective. What would Stalin have done with Britney Spears? Have her declared a People’s Artist of the Soviet Union, with the Leningrad-Murmansk train line named after her. Dan Dierdorf would have been made Secretary of the Sverdlovsk Region. Shepard Smith would probably get to head up the Press Ministry to start, then maybe work his way up to Foreign Affairs. It’s hard not to look at the American cultural landscape and see all sorts of people the old seminarian would really have liked.
But the main reason I’m thinking of this now is the debt ceiling/government shutdown issue. How would Stalin have handled all of this? Reflexively, I can’t help but wonder.
I’m guessing he would have taken Tea Party Sen. Ted Cruz’s caucus members, loaded them onto cattle cars, and relocated them to a piece of woodsy wilderness in Alaska’s Chugach National Forest. Once there, guards would have handed saws and hammers to the esteemed legislators (still dressed in suits and heels – no wasteful government spending on parkas!) and instructed them to build new congressional “branch offices” out of the still-living trees surrounding them. Always conscious of cost, Stalin preferred, whenever possible, to relocate pesky populations to remote deserts and taigas rather than waste bullets liquidating them. Tea Party congresspersons would naturally be one of the first nationalities moved.
Leaders of movements were a different matter. Of those, one had to make very public examples. In this instance, with Cruz and company, Old Koba would likely go the “Kirov’s Assassins” route. First, he’d have someone like Ted Yoho bite an exploding apple during a live CNBC broadcast. Then he’d immediately send Eric Holder out for a massive impromptu press conference in which the White House, furious over the loss of so great a patriot, would announce a sweeping, coast-to-coast search for Yoho’s killers.
Eventually, the chief suspects would be arrested, and they would be everyone you would expect – the Koch Brothers, Rand Paul and of course Cruz himself, who, weeping and begging for forgiveness, would confess in lurid detail to the crime in a live televised trial. He got Michelle Bachmann to design the exploding apple! They conspired to have it delivered on-set by Maria Bartiromo! And they all removed Yoho out of jealousy (he was getting too much ink for out-dumbing the field, saying a default would “bring stability to world markets”)!
Not making any value judgments at all, but that’s what Stalin would do. What is Barack Obama doing? Well, something much less than that. Much, much less, to the point where it’s getting a little weird.
The 2008 crash was triggered by the failure of one investment bank, Lehman Brothers, and when that bank collapsed, the world discovered that it was now so interconnected financially that one significant and unexpected failure could start a nuclear chain-reaction of losses. The Lehman impact stunned everyone. The average American family lost 18 percent of its wealth within months. The stock market lost half its value. The repo market collapsed, freezing economic activity and leading to massive declines in asset prices. Unemployment soared past 10 percent almost instantly.
And that was just one bank failure. Can one imagine the consequences of the failure of the United States? The $12 trillion in outstanding government debt is 23 times bigger than the $517 billion Lehman owed when it went under in September 2008. In every way that Lehman’s failure played havoc with the economy, the failure of U.S. debt would repeat the disaster, only it would do it on an almost inconceivably huger scale.
The entire world financial system revolves around the notion that the U.S. will never default, because under normal, rational circumstances, it can’t. (It can always print enough money to meet its obligations, as even Alan Greenspan conceded two years ago.) Before this latest political madness, no one could ever have conceived of a sovereign state intentionally defaulting. But we’re, like, a week away from this happening, and where’s the emergency mobilization?
I’m not saying that this is the case, but one wonders whether the Democrats have made a miscalculation here, based upon their own narrow, transactional, materialistic view of politics. The Democrats may be sitting back just a little bit, content to let this felicitous political situation develop just a little longer, perhaps (and I have no proof of this) convinced that the other party will come to its senses and stand down at the last minute.
But Cruz and his people are something we never see in Washington – believers.
Obama and his Neoliberals are believers too, and it’s not in democracy.