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Posted at 12:50 PM ET, 07/11/2011

Obama, ‘professional politicians’ and the boring debt ceiling


Thanks for letting me off the hook! (Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
In the course of the president’s press conference on raising the debt ceiling today, a questioner noted that 69 percent of the American public do not support raising the debt ceiling.

There is, President Obama responded, a difference between the public and professional politicians.

That’s good to know!

It turns out that I was right not to worry about the debt ceiling. The professional politicians have this in hand.

Worry about Treasury rates? The public shouldn’t. “They have a lot of things on their plate,” Obama said. They are worrying about their jobs. They are worrying about putting food, as President George W. Bush once said, on their families.

Besides, the debt ceiling is boring. Has anyone ever gotten really enthused about a ceiling, except for maybe Michelangelo? It’s the low point of any room.

So I am frankly relieved. Lord knows I’m not a professional politician. They say that the difference between a professional and an amateur is that a professional can do his job even when he doesn’t feel like it, and an amateur can’t do his job even when he does. Never mind that the current state of talks on the debt ceiling would suggest that we don’t have any professional politicians at all. Their job seems to be to raise the debt limit so that we don’t go into default (whatever that is) and collapse (whatever that is) and they haven’t been able to make that happen, although they keep telling us how much they want to. We might go into default? Once my cell phone went into default mode and deleted all my phone numbers. That was inconvenient but not world-ending. I hope it’s like that.

I understand it must be tiring to explain things to us all the time. The sense that we would rather be off watching “The Voice” must nag at you as you make whistle-stops and try to put things in simple, monosyllabic terms. “More jobs good!” you yell. “Vote O!”

But I thought we were supposed to feel bad about how little we knew. After all, we’re paying for this.

So I was a little startled by the president’s remarks. If you aren’t going to make us feel bad about not following Treasury rates, what’s the presidency for?

Is it better for the country if some of us don’t care about these things? It would certainly make for less vitriolic crowds outside the White House. I always felt ashamed that for years, I thought the Debt Ceiling was a really poorly named band. “Raise the debt ceiling?” polls ask. ”No thanks! I already have twenty-three children.”

Perhaps I should be relieved. I can go catch up on all those seasons of “30 Rock” I’ve been putting off so I could try to understand how our debt worked. It was making my head ache, destroying my concentration, and keeping me from attending cookouts. Now I’ve got a reprieve. I can drop that New York Times and seize the US Weekly! In fact, I already have.

We don’t need an informed and active citizenry. We are fortunate and uniquely blessed in America to have this professional class of politicians who are paid to worry about these things. Let them handle the debt ceiling. Maybe “Jersey Shore” is on. If you feel like civic participation, take that new David Brooks book to the beach and wait for the feeling to pass. It is large enough to make a handy sunshade.

Maybe this is what the Founders wanted. Before we got into all this direct election nonsense, there was a distinct group of people who went into politics because they were Trusted Men who could Handle These Things while we tried to make the earth bring forth turnips. There were age limits to ensure wisdom and temperance.

Now look at us.

The big selling point of our politicians is that they are Just Like Us. That is what we want nowadays. People who are Just Like Us — not smarter or better, maybe a little bit More American, more likely to wander the streets in shirts unironically covered in flags, but generally the sort of guys we can see ourselves dropping by to visit with beer later.

Maybe President Obama has a point. If everyone cared intensely about civics, our online forums would probably explode. We can’t all be debt wonks because someone has to never read anything they write and buy the Palin memoir.

But nonetheless the term “professional politician” is misleading. America does not have any professional politicians. We have elected representatives. And as we frequently discover, they are seldom much more wise or temperate or capable of understanding the debt ceiling (one of them just proposed lowering it, seeming not to understand the purpose of the exercise) than the populace at large. Sure, as a nation, we’re prone to the folly of crowds – how else to account for the continuing popularity of Crocs? Sure, we are less knowledgeable about civics than we’ve ever been, as numerous polls attest. But the pool of people from which these mysterious “professional politicians” capable of resolving all our disputes in a sane and reasonable manner are drawn is – well, us.

Too bad we don’t care about the debt ceiling.

By  |  12:50 PM ET, 07/11/2011

Tags:  professional politicians, Obama, debt ceiling

 
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