Sleepy Joe flashes his steel

If the president is such a dotard, how does he keep pantsing the GOP?

President Joe Biden hides a smile as he meets with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., in the Oval Office last month to discuss the debt limit.

President Joe Biden hides a smile as he meets with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., in the Oval Office last month to discuss the debt limit.

Alex Brandon/Associated Press

My wife pays the bills. A few paid by check, an antique practice akin to churning butter. Most paid electronically, online. And a few, key expenses deducted automatically from our checking account. Which means ... well, I really have no idea what the actual process entails. A bundle of electrons sent by the Firm Handshake Mortgage Company meet once a month in some dim silicon chip alley with another clump of electrons sent by our bank account. A microsecond exchange occurs, some digital version of flashing gang signs, and we’re good for another month. I’ve honestly never thought about it before.

My contribution is some of the money. Being otherwise excused from this process has been one of the great boons of my life, like being the son of an atomic scientist or owning a dog.

But let’s pretend I did have a role in the physical bill-paying process. Let’s say that, due to some banking regulation, I was required to ring a big gong to make the payment of bills binding and official. A round circle of bronze the size of a garbage can lid, hanging from black silk cords on our porch. For some obscure reason, I had to be the one to hit the gong — a long, quavering boooonnnng — to seal the transaction.

Opinion bug


Now let’s say that I decide I won’t do it. Not until some long-running household dispute is settled in my favor. Not until we buy all new dish towels. My wife, a frugal gal raised in Bellwood, uses a motley of worn dish towels of all colors, shapes and sizes, some decades old, in shades of horrendous brown. I, grandiose, would like to simply throw the old, disreputable dish towels away, and replace them with a new stack of white French dish towels from Williams-Sonoma.

So I refuse to ring the gong. Not until the dish towel situation is addressed. Meaning the bills won’t be paid, threatening to cause the bad things that happen when you don’t pay your bills — demands from aggressive collection agencies, bad credit ratings, salary being dunned, and so on. That would hurt me, too, since I live in the same household. But I don’t care. I want new dish towels. So I blackmail my wife.

That would make me a jerk, right? An idiot. A bully using a rococo loophole in the bill-paying system — the gong — in order to extract concessions that I wouldn’t otherwise get.

That’s basically what has been unfolding in Washington, as Republicans refused to raise the debt ceiling — a weird bit of government theater as arcane as any gong — unless the president conceded certain budget cuts. (Here the dish towel metaphor is imperfect, as it suggests spending, not saving, money. But the Republicans aren’t really interested in saving money either — they sure don’t care about deficits during GOP administrations. They just want to hurt people they scorn.)

The House finally passed the deal Wednesday night. The Senate followed late Thursday. No one is completely happy, but the far-right Republicans put up the loudest howl of complaint after failing to scuttle the deal, which indeed does avoid cuts to most key programs.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of Calif. at a news conference after the House passed the debt ceiling bill on Wednesday, May 31, 2023.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of California, along with other Republican members of the House, speaks at a news conference after the House passed the debt ceiling bill Wednesday night.

Jose Luis Magana/Associated Press

It’s funny. The far right loves to portray Joe Biden as senile, snoozing in a rocker on a nursing home porch. Suddenly, they’re sobbing about how he bamboozled them. It’s a shame they live in a frictionless world of shifting fantasy, because it would be nice if, for once, they could perceive how ironic this is. Of course they can’t. As soon as this crisis passes, Biden will go back to being Grandpa Joe unable to eat his eggs unless somebody cuts them up first.

But we can savor this episode, reminiscent of those predatory insects disguising themselves as leaves until they snap into action and devour some hapless beetle. Old Sleepy Joe, plaid lap rug snug around his knees, dozing in his cane rocker on the wide veranda. Until young Kevin McCarthy comes by in knee britches and a cloth cap and hurls a few schoolboy taunts. There is a flash, the unseen whoosh of ninja sword. Poor Kevin is bawling, holding the cleanly severed cheeks of his posterior in each hand, having been handed them by ... who? All eyes turn back to Joe, still slumped in his chair, still slumbering, the slightest trace of a smile playing upon his thin lips.

President Joe Biden walks to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on Wednesday, May 31, 2023.

President Joe Biden walks to Marine One Wednesday after talking with reporters on the South Lawn of the White House.

Susan Walsh/Associated Press

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