PRYOR, OK —
When the shutdown ended, our public officials sounded like fraternity boys with a hangover after a disastrous weekend drinking binge.
“Never again!” spewed and dribbled from the lips of Republicans and Democrats alike. “We need to make sure that government does not go through another round of brinksmanship,” Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said on “Meet the Press.” “This can never happen again.”
Sen. John McCain sounded as if he were making a pledge when talking to CNN, “People have been too traumatized by it. There's too much damage. ... We're not going to shut down the government again. I guarantee it.”
And Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, the face of the Republican Party's 2011 rush to default — thus, a veteran of domestic brinksmanship — promised that his party would never again shut down the government.
“Shutting down the government in my view is not conservative policy,” McConnell said on CBS' “Face the Nation”: “So there will not be another government shutdown. You can count on that.”
McConnell expanded his remarks in an interview with the conservative National Review, saying he would also rule out pulling the plug on the United States' credit rating: “We're not going to do this again in connection with the debt ceiling or with a government shutdown.
But there's a difference between promising and performing.
Both McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner strongly opposed the shutdown — beforehand. I've heard arguments that the Republican leadership, especially in the House, couldn't control the vocal and influential tea party caucus. I've heard arguments that the Republican leadership postured for the public, and wanted the confrontation. What I haven't heard is what measures will be taken. I've heard the assurances. But what will Congress do next time?
And what lessons did President Barack Obama take away from this manufactured crisis? Will he sit and wait for Republicans to get their act together or will he simply provide the necessary leadership to help move us forward?
Let's not forget the role of the press in all of this. After all, journalists with their countdown clocks and nonstop punditry also played a role in heightening the crisis.
The media tended to treat both the shutdown and debt deadline as a political trick-or-treat, missing the point. There's something ghoulish about indifference to, or even delight in, an act that shuts down 23 Head Start programs, preventing almost 19,000 children from getting nutritious meals and health screenings.
To shut down the government, even partially, to cause taxpayers to lose $24 billion dollars, to idle the work of federal agencies from food inspection to small business loans, is immoral. The government belongs to all the people. Sane Republicans realized after the 2012 election they didn't have a ghost of a chance of repealing Obamacare. McCain called it a fool's errand.
Threatening to turn the United States into a deadbeat nation is even worse. The honor and credit of our nation is at stake. Moreover, we have a constitutional obligation to pay our debts. Period. The Constitution isn't a pumpkin.
The very first act of the newly formed United States government was to pledge it would pay its Revolutionary War bills penny for penny — some $54 million — a sum likely as large then as our $17 trillion debt is now.
How could we ever, in the name of partisanship over the legalities of health care, default on our national character? The outrage isn't partisan, and I'm not the only one shocked at the callous disregard for people or principle. Jennifer Rubin, the conservative blogger for The Washington Post, tweeted on Oct. 15 about the Republican Party's willingness to snub its nose at paying our bills: “I'm so old I remember when the GOP was the party of financial stability.”
As unthinkable as another cliff-hanger is, and although McConnell pledged not to extort concessions by threatening a government shutdown or defaulting on our debt obligations, there is evidence he plans to do it again.
On “Face the Nation,” as McConnell pondered outcomes of the next “episode” in January and February, CBS's Bob Schieffer interrupted to ask, “Wouldn't it be a good idea, maybe, to start re-engaging before early next year to try to lay some groundwork for that?”
McConnell then referred to a conference committee currently underway to avoid another shutdown. But he casually dismissed it with “They're going to see if they can come up with a proposal.” That “proposal” would be the compromise that would stop “Cliff-Hanger 2: The Sequel.”
McConnell then repeated his 5-year-old mantra of “spending caps and no revenue,” adding, “that's the best way to go forward as we go into the discussions that we will have in January and February.”
There he goes again. I heard — echoing in my ears — the words of Louisiana Republican congressman John Fleming: “See, we're going to start this all over again.”
To which I say, please, congressfolk, let's leave the haunted houses to scary movies, and off Capitol Hill.
(Donna Brazile is a senior Democratic strategist, a political commentator and contributor to CNN and ABC News, and a contributing columnist to Ms. Magazine and O, the Oprah Magazine.)