The best way to understand the debt-ceiling crisis, in my view, is a battle at the end of the long strategic advance of the authoritarian welfare state.
But, as Michael Barone points out, Republicans lack the strength to win a decisive battle at this point. That's because, as he writes, the Constitution made it that way. You have to win two elections in a row to flip the government to your side:
The lesson is that you have to win at least two elections in a row to make the kind of policy changes that the Obama Democrats made in 2009 and 2010 and that House Republicans want to make now.
Right now the president and the Democrats are insisting behind the scenes that there will be no spending cuts without revenue increases. That is what comes up time and again as negotiations break down. Democrats want to cement in as much of the huge increase in spending as possible. They know they have to do it by minimizing spending cuts and maximizing tax increases.
In my view, of course, they are whistling Dixie. We are going to see a massive realignment over the next few elections and a huge repudiation of the Democratic approach to politics. If Democrats had any sense they would be preparing the battlefield and making strategic retreats on the most egregious of their corruptocratic programs and subsidies.
That's what they should do. But people usually don't. They keep doing what they are good at even after the game is up.
Napoleon is a good example. His great skill was manoeuvering his army between the widely separated armies of his coalition enemies. Time and again he managed to defeat one opposing army with his whole force while the other opposing army failed to get to the battlefield in time to make a difference. The reason the Battle of Waterloo was a close run thing was that the Prussians almost didn't make it to the battlefield in time.
Napoleon's problem was that, eventually, he wasted an entire army in Russia, and then the next year suffered a huge defeat at the Battle of Leipzig. His army never recovered from those two blows.
Democrats are still good at manoeuvering over the political battlefield and winning the war of words. But the game is up. Spending cuts will be necessary: big spending cuts. The Democrats just don't want to face up to them before 2012 because they understand that if they cut spending on their spending constituencies before the election they are dead meat.
It comes down to the Fram oil filter man's proposal. Do we want to pay him now, or pay him later? With benefits cut and sinecures reduced, all those loyal Democrats will be betrayed in the end anyway. It's a shame, but that's what happens when you put your trust in princes.