Rob Cobb

Debt Ceiling

Updated Oct 09, 2013

This post originally appeared as a column in The Diamondback

Here in college, we obsess about our football team, classes, Miley Cyrus, Breaking Bad and, of course, whatever personal drama is happening that day. But politics? Leave that to the government and politics majors. We can’t make a difference anyway. “All the politicians are crooks and phonies. I hate them all,” goes the conventional wisdom.

As the nation careens toward political and economic disaster, we Terps are oddly unconcerned. Perhaps the perpetual fearmongering and gridlock have turned us off from politics and dulled our senses so much that, in the face of this very real crisis, we are no longer capable of the appropriate level of outrage.

Perhaps the situation is too abstract for us to emotionally invest in it, or we feel a sense of hopeless detachment because we perceive that nothing we do will have any effect. Maybe we are too busy with clubs and midterms to spend time reading the articles our politically minded Facebook friends share on our newsfeeds. Maybe we just don’t know enough to understand when things are serious and when all the noise is just posturing.

At the risk of adding to the “boy who cried wolf” perception of the media: This time it’s real. I can’t, in 600 words, capture the intricacies of the entanglement, and I don’t want to turn anyone off with the blame game. The political reality of the government shutdown and looming debt limit crisis should be something that makes you very afraid. Remember when the market crashed in 2008 and millions of people suffered? The crash from which we are still recovering?We are facing a crisis of that magnitude in the next month, unless a miracle happens.

The Democrats can’t and won’t concede because it sets a precedent for this type of negotiation for the future. The Republicans can’t yield without getting anything or they will appear to have caused the whole thing and not gotten anything from it. Unless House Speaker John Boehner can figure out a way to slip out of this without tainting his whole reputation, or the expert opinions I have been reading are mistaken about the impossibility of compromise, we are headed for disaster.

On Oct. 17, without a debt ceiling bill, the government won’t be allowed to pay its debt. The resulting dramatic dip in value of treasury bonds, a cornerstone of the financial system, will have dramatic consequences for everyone, you and me included.

A great majority of us, students and faculty alike, have built around ourselves a protective shell, allowing us to ignore unpleasantness and discomfort. We tackle difficult challenges but only in comfortable areas. It is easier to simply ignore the Student Government Association, walk past whoever is tabling for a particular issue and, above all, deliberately avoid paying attention to national politics.

It isn’t cool to have opinions; reserved detachment and the claim of “I don’t really pay attention to all that” let us escape from thinking about very real challenges and having real conversations about them.

Some readers might be thinking, “But I do pay attention! I do follow this stuff!” Certainly you know, more than most, the frustration of being constantly surrounded by caring, intelligent people who consciously or unconsciously decide to ignore issues that will affect their lives.

We here on the campus are really smart — I don’t mean to be trite or to oversimplify — we are damn smart. We need to figure out how we can raise our voices and fix this before it becomes what it could, forcing us to spend years picking up the pieces.

Robert Cobb is a senior computer engineering major. He can be reached at rcobbdbk@gmail.


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