The contest of wills under way in Washington is casually deceptive. Yes, it pits Republicans against Democrats, and the House of Representatives against the Senate and the White House. Yes, it is a partisan and institutional fight, with the all-too-familiar theater of dueling news conferences, apocalyptic threats and interest-group email blasts.
But this conflict bleeds outside the lines of traditional politics, carrying with it the potential to damage the nation in profound ways. Without a long-term agreement between the antagonists a proposed six-week reprieve from the debt ceiling would merely postpone the endgame President Barack Obama may soon face a choice between safeguarding democratic governance on one hand and protecting financial stability on the other. If this budding, bumbling crisis comes to that, disaster is all but guaranteed.
The U.S. cannot under any circumstances afford a default. The last time political dysfunction in Washington led us to the brink, during the 2011 debt-ceiling fiasco, Standard & Poor's downgraded U.S. credit for the first time in history, and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke cited "disrupted financial markets and probably the economy" as a result.