Apocalypse Chasing with the Debt Ceiling

As debt ceiling doomsday approaches and the pageantry of partisan brinksmanship unfolds, few are playing more fiercely than Utah Sen. Mike Lee, whose role in the founding of the Senate’s Tea Party caucus has made him a new Fox News favorite.

Lee, the son of former US Solicitor General and BYU President Rex Lee, grabbed an upset victory over former Sen. Bob Bennett in the state’s 2012 Republican primaries, in large part because he understood and successfully appealed to the end-times sensibilities of his Mormon base.

Most powerful among the Mormon folk beliefs Lee appealed to was the “White Horse Prophecy,” an apocryphal narrative which predicts that in the last days the United States will face a calamitous national decline and the US Constitution will “hang by a thread” until rescued by righteous Mormons.

Lee’s electoral strategy both capitalized on and contributed to a signficant decline in the quality and substance of LDS conservative thought (as I argued here last year), with Lee the younger opportunistically mobilizing far-right apocalyptic narratives that his more urbane father rejected.

Now, with his threat to block any vote to raise the debt ceiling by filibuster, Lee appears to be staking his reputation in the Senate on similar catastrophe-chasing tactics.

Would that he took a lesson from cooler heads back in the state of Utah, where just a few months ago religious leaders and lawmakers collaborated in the creation of a principled new Utah Compact on immigration reform heralded as a timely departure from the dead-end extremism of Arizona’s SB 1070 and praised nationwide as a model of “good sense and sanity.”

What works so well about the Utah approach to immigration? It demonstrates respect for the seriousness of the issue by modeling civil collaboration. It acknowledges the reality of a complex global economy dependent on international flows of labor and capital. And it forces the most powerful players into substantive long-term problem-solving, while protecting the least powerful people in the game: namely, working familes.

Imagine a similarly pragmatic, collaborative approach to the debt-ceiling issue.

Truth is, pragmatism is as much a Mormon value as apocalypticism. (We Mormons don’t believe in the rapture, and we don’t just ruminate on the last days: we actually store away enough food and water to support ourselves—and you too, neighbor—through the next major supply chain disruption.)

What if instead of threatening a filibuster that could leave the global economy hanging by a thread, Senator Lee took a break from the Fox News line-up and asked himself, “What Would Utah Do (WWUD)?”

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