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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The “platinum coin” alternative may be a “gimmick,” but it can play a very useful role in restoring balance to a negotiation that is deeply unbalanced by the equally outrageous gimmicks proposed by GOP extremism.

Stephen Stromberg hits the nail on the head today about negotiating strategy. As he says:

Skillful negotiating can begin with taking an utterly unrealistic opening stand and making it seem like you’re not. In advance of this year’s approaching budget battles, Mitch McConnell tried that strategy on Sunday.

McConnell’s pitch? The current GOP mantra: “We don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem”
Now some people may actually have rational reasons for thinking that certain specific categories of government spending should be reduced — I certainly do — but the simple fact is that the statement above is nothing but logical gibberish. It is logically equivalent to saying “the problem isn’t that the ladder is too short, it’s that the roof is too tall.” It’s substantively meaningless but has the outward appearance of reason and misleadingly suggests that a longer ladder is not one perfectly sensible approach to solving the problem while the only viable option is lowering the roof.
The entire GOP communications strategy has been predicated on superficial sound-bite memes of this kind. It’s essentially relies on (1) most people’s limited understanding of fiscal policy and (2) the MSM’s willingness to act as stenographers for anything the RNC says, no matter how egregiously absurd.
This is where the Platinum Coin can play a very useful role in rebalancing the currently lopsided way in which the two poles of the upcoming negotiations are being framed by the MSM.
Here’s how Paul Krugman summarizes the case for the “platinum coin.”

Should President Obama be willing to print a $1 trillion platinum coin if Republicans try to force America into default? Yes, absolutely. He will, after all, be faced with a choice between two alternatives: one that’s silly but benign, the other that’s equally silly but both vile and disastrous. The decision should be obvious.
For those new to this, here’s the story. First of all, we have the weird and destructive institution of the debt ceiling; this lets Congress approve tax and spending bills that imply a large budget deficit — tax and spending bills the president is legally required to implement — and then lets Congress refuse to grant the president authority to borrow, preventing him from carrying out his legal duties and provoking a possibly catastrophic default.
And Republicans are openly threatening to use that potential for catastrophe to blackmail the president into implementing policies they can’t pass through normal constitutional processes.
Enter the platinum coin. There’s a legal loophole allowing the Treasury to mint platinum coins in any denomination the secretary chooses. Yes, it was intended to allow commemorative collector’s items — but that’s not what the letter of the law says. And by minting a $1 trillion coin, then depositing it at the Fed, the Treasury could acquire enough cash to sidestep the debt ceiling — while doing no economic harm at all.
So why not?
It’s easy to make sententious remarks to the effect that we shouldn’t look for gimmicks, we should sit down like serious people and deal with our problems realistically. That may sound reasonable — if you’ve been living in a cave for the past four years. Given the realities of our political situation, and in particular the mixture of ruthlessness and craziness that now characterizes House Republicans, it’s just ridiculous — far more ridiculous than the notion of the coin. So if the 14th amendment solution — simply declaring that the debt ceiling is unconstitutional — isn’t workable, go with the coin.

Under current circumstances, a “gimmick” like the platinum coin actually plays a constructive role in the debate by placing the GOP’s gimmicks on the same plane with the comparably superficial “solution” to America’s economic problems offered by the coin. The MSM is easily manipulated by conservatives when they are willing to use gimmicks while Democrats feel obligated to limit themselves to patiently explaining the more complex realities of the situation.
To see this clearly, just consider the following: every single sound-bite in which the conservative commentariat is forced to discuss a notion like the platinum coin is an instance in which it cannot be promoting its preferred and more effective sound-bite messaging. It essentially degrades the GOP slogan, “America is going broke” — which the MSM treats as a serious statement — down to the same ridiculous level as, “OK, let’s print a very expensive coin” and reestablishes a basic balance in the debate.
Krugman concludes his column by indicating the real role of the platinum coin in the debate as follows:

This still leaves the question of whose face goes on the coin — but that’s easy: John Boehner. Because without him and his colleagues, this wouldn’t be necessary.

Average Americans don’t understand the intricacies of serious fiscal policy but they do indeed understand the inherent insanity of threatening to throw the U.S. economy into default and crisis simply as a partisan tactic in a policy negotiation between Democrats and Republicans. The one-trillion dollar “Boehner-coin” argument simply exposes the even more absurd Republican “solution” in a way that no sensible and sober explanation of normal fiscal realities ever could.
And anyway, isn’t it time a nation as great as America finally had a public figure with an orange face and a lit cigarette on its currency? After all, George Hamilton doesn’t smoke and Dean Martin never went in for ultra-tanning.

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