The Debt Debacle Explained

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The new print issue of TIME (available to subscribers) tries to make sense of the debt-limit mayhem that just consumed Washington. In it, I have a piece taking stock of the Tea Party’s amazing ability to commandeer the debt debate. What interested me most is how the Tea Party succeeded through playing by its own set of rules. Daniel Patrick Moynihan liked to say that people are entitled to their own opinions but not their own facts. But when it came to the risks of not raising the debt limit, the Tea Partyers simply refused to believe the dire warnings issued by everyone from Barack Obama to John Boehner to Ben Bernanke. How can Congress work productively when its members don’t even agree on the most basic truths? That’s the new political reality on Capitol Hill, and somehow Obama and the Democrats must figure out how to deal with it.

But enough about me. The main cover story is a terrific essay by Fareed Zakaria explaining what the past few weeks have revealed about our political system and the health of our country. Fareed writes that the budget deal itself is neither as good as its supporters claim nor as bad as its opponents fear, and that “the largest impact will be political, and there it has been a disaster.” Thanks to a dysfunctional political system, America’s global standing has been undermined–while our long-term debt problem remains unsolved. Fareed’s historical context and wise prescriptions are invaluable, but ultimately it’s a grim tale. Read it and try not to weep.