Why are folks on both sides so adamant that they “lost” the debt-ceiling debate?

After a bruising and intensely public battle over the debt ceiling, many in the Progressive Left are publicly declaring disappointment in the result, asserting that the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party (“extremists” and “terrorists”) drove the terms of the debate and ensuing outcome.

Of course, this is not a universally-held assessment. Ann Barnhardt (http://www.americanthinker.com/blog/2011/08/we_the_stupid.html), Francis Cianfrocca (http://www.redstate.com/blackhedd/2011/08/01/obama-is-the-big-winner-in-the-debt-ceiling-debate/),  and others have eloquently argued the opposite position – that the Republicans were the ones that got rolled.

Setting aside the question of who actually “won” – if the question can even be answered in a value-neutral way – why are the most intense partisans on each side of the aisle so emphatic in asserting a devastating loss on their own side? Is there some benefit in persuading the public (or a subset of the public) that you lost badly?

Here are some possible answers.

  • Each side is positioning itself for the confrontation that is surely on the way with the new-and-improved, six-per-side 12-member deficit commission that has been created by the legislation that ultimately passed. Imagine the dialog (from either side) during commission debates: “How can you be so uncompromising? Your side won the earlier battle, now it’s time for a more balanced approach.” Indeed, even the selection of participants on the commission could be contentious, for exactly the same reason: “How can you nominate such an extremist? Surely you know that we can’t work with him/her on such sensitive negotiations after he/she demanded (and won) so much ground in the debt-limit debate.”
  • Each side is looking to motivate their base. “Get ready for 2012, or this year’s fights will look like a cakewalk.” (For the Left: “The election in 2010 led directly to this awful bill, which was basically written by the Tea Party. Get into gear or 2012 will be even worse.” For the Right: “The seats we won in 2010 weren’t enough to get the spending cuts we need. We need to win again – and even bigger – in 2012 or we’ll never cut spending.”) It’s a fine line, of course, since you don’t want your side to conclude that your loss was due to irresolution rather than a disadvantageous position.
  • Each side is looking to avoid “ownership” of the economy between now and November 2012. With unemployment holding steady above 9%, inflation on the rise, interest rates expected to increase, and a credit-rating downgrade a near-certainty, NOBODY is optimistic about the economy in the next year or so. Thus the Left would like to be able to say a year from now: “See, the country gave in to the right-wing extremists in the Tea Party, and the economy is no better than before.” Conversely, the story from the Right will surely be: “See what happens when you do what the Leftists want, year after year? The economy stays in the tank!”

Bottom line: both Left and Right have reasons to declare defeat rather than victory, now that this stage of the battle is over.



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