© Josh Sager – September 2013
It is absolutely ridiculous that this is a question that I find myself raising, but here it is: “How is the upcoming debt ceiling fight incredibly similar to the plot of the move The Big Lebowski?”
In short, both stories involve a group of nihilists attempting to take a hostage (that they never had any real control over) in order to compel an overly-conciliatory man into giving them a ransom which consists of money that does not exist.
The movie The Big Lebowsi focuses upon an extremely convoluted blackmail plot, where a case of mistaken identity draws the Dude—an extremely laid back bowler—into a conflict between a millionaire and a group of supposed kidnappers. The Dude is given a briefcase full of money (which later turns out to be empty) to pay a ransom for Bunny, the millionaire’s mistress (who isn’t really missing), thus is pursued by an angry group of nihilists who want the money (which doesn’t actually exist). After a great deal of insanity, the Dude catches onto what is happening, exposes the scam, and defeats the nihilists with the help of his slightly psychotic friend Walter and his extremely meek friend Donny.
The story of the debt ceiling and the conflict over increasing it is just as complex and illogical as the plot of the movie: The debt ceiling is a limit on what the government is able to spend in order to pay for what they have already bought. Currently, a group of nihilistic right wingers are attempting to hold the debt ceiling increase hostage in order to compel the president to give them monetary concessions, despite the fact that the president has the unilateral power to increase the debt limit (meaning that their hostage is actually not in danger).
Meet the Plot Elements:
The Dude = President Obama; both are unreasonably laid back men who repeatedly suffer abuse from mentally unbalanced people without exhibiting the proper level of outrage. Like the Dude’s rug from the movie, Obama’s prized policy achievement is urinated upon (figuratively) and threatened by those who wish to force him to act.
The Nihilists = the current GOP; both are groups of mentally unbalanced people who believe in nothing other than hoarding money and who are attempting to get such money through hostage-taking and blackmail. More specifically, the three nihilists in the movie could represent Boehner, Cantor and McConnell, who are the ones most involved in the debt ceiling fight.
Bunny = the debt ceiling; both are irritating hostages which are not actually in any danger of being harmed. Just as Bunny is never really kidnapped (merely out of town), the debt ceiling isn’t actually in any danger because Obama has the unilateral power to ensure that the US pays its debts (14th Amendment).
The money = debt and policy concessions; the imaginary money from the briefcase is similar to the concessions demanded by the GOP because both are impossible to give, yet are being used as the bargaining chip in a ransom.
Donny = Harry Reid; Reid, like Donny, is a small, quiet and timid man who is regularly overshadowed by everybody else in the room. In addition to this, it is likely that the conflict of the story will lead to his eventual demise (Donny dies of a heart attack, while Reid will likely lose his office).
Walter = Nancy Pelosi; Pelosi, like Walter, tends to be loud and assertive when her allies are unnaturally laid back. Just as Walter is the one to eventually defeat the nihilists, I see a possibility of Pelosi leveraging this fight into an advantage for Democrats that lets them win more seats in the legislature (although it is unlikely that she will bite Cantor’s ear off or bludgeon Boehner with a bowling ball in the process).
It is pathetic that our federal politicians have stumbled into a situation which is eerily analogous to a satirical and ridiculous movie. The Big Lebowski is funny because it is absurd, yet this humor quickly dries up when the plot is translated into a policy fight with real consequences. We need politicians who comport themselves with dignity and care for the effects of their actions on others—Obama’s conciliatory weakness in the face of illogical opponents and the GOP’s deranged nihilism are both shameful and damaging to our country.
In a best case scenario, Obama will follow the example of the Dude (no matter how ridiculous it may sound), realize that the entire hostage situation is a fraud, and finally stand up to the nihilists. By using the constitutional option (citing the 14th Amendment to unilaterally increase the debt limit to necessary levels), Obama can short-circuit the debt ceiling fight and avoid having to give anything to the money-hungry nihilists who are trying to extort him.
After the debt ceiling fight is resolved, the Democrats need to get together and confront the GOP for their money-centric nihilism in the public eye. American voters need to understand that the GOP is willing to burn everything down unless they get their pound of flesh from Obama, and this is unlikely to happen while the Democrats timidly let the GOP bludgeon them in issue after issue.