Obama’s Solomonic riddle

Obama’s Solomonic riddle

[Ed. note: Solomon the Stupid?]

In summer 2011, as the debt ceiling loomed, Barack Obama saw his predicament in Solomonic terms. He was the president, charged with safeguarding the national economy. Republicans threatening default therefore had the leverage. They might have been prepared to split the baby. Obama was not willing to — like the true mother, he couldn’t — let that happen.

“There’s no doubt that the challenge we had here was ultimately I and [Treasury Secretary] Tim Geithner were responsible for averting another financial meltdown,” Obama later told Bob Woodward. “And so my interest in not playing chicken, or seeing any miscalculation here that leads to a default, was profound.”

Two long years later, the presidential calculus is transformed. It boils down to: He has to be willing to split the baby in order to save it, or, more precisely, to prevent future baby-splitting.

In the administration’s sadder-but-wiser view, the no-negotiation-over-the-debt-ceiling line must be drawn brightly, once and for all, in order to avert a never-ending cascade of extortionist episodes. Otherwise, Obama and his successors will be subject to incessant, escalating demands for concessions. Better to edge up to, or even leap off of, the cliff of default disaster now than be saddled with it forevermore.

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