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Sunday, May 14, 2023

Michael McConnell on the Debt Ceiling: a Question about Rhetoric

Michael McConnell, former federal appeals judge and current Stanford law prof, has a column in the New York Times calling on Pres. Biden to abandon his demand for a clean bill to increase the debt ceiling, and rather to negotiate spending cuts with House Republicans. My own view is that Speaker McCarthy and his colleagues are recklessly endangering the U.S. and world economies -- they only care about the debt ceiling, or deficits for that matter, when there is a Democrat in the White House -- but McConnell sees it differently:

But the House Republicans’ insistence on negotiations and compromise is not “hostage taking.” It is the ordinary stuff of politics. The two sides can posture all they want, but in the end, Congress and the president have to reach an agreement. That is not a bad thing. It is a good thing. The Constitution does not permit a unilateral solution on either side.

I am not writing, however, to engage on the merits. What's more interesting to me is McConnell's use of certain language -- "That is not a bad thing. It is a good thing." -- which happens to be a very close paraphrase from Chairman Mao Zedong's Little Red Book:

To Be Attacked by the Enemy Is Not a Bad Thing but a Good Thing.

Mao first used the phrase at a Communist Party Congress in 1939 (I had to look it up), and he often returned to the locution in later speeches and writings. I recall its use in many contexts by various Maoists and others during my Berkeley years. Whatever was being advocated, it was invariably "not a bad thing, but a good thing."

Now I wonder how conservative Prof. McConnell came to use it. Did he just come up with the expression independently? Did he happen to pick it up from ubiquitous Stanford left-wingers, unaware of its origin? Or was he being subtly ironic, realizing that only a handful of old-timers were likely to recognize his allusion (and would smile at it, as I have)?

Comments are open (but will be monitored).

Posted by Steve Lubet on May 14, 2023 at 10:39 AM | Permalink


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