The failure of the super committee has been widely attributed to partisan stalemate. But the problem is less partisan than ideological.
The battle over spending and debt is being fought along the deepest fault line in American politics.
Republicans believe deeply that raising income tax rates for anybody -- including the rich -- is economically dangerous and politically suicidal. Besides, they say, it wouldn't raise enough money.
But Democrats, with equal fervor, believe that cutting entitlement benefits -- benefits which are the big driver of deficits -- is to attack the crowning achievements of their party's drive for social justice in America. Nancy Pelosi even directed her appointees on the super committee to oppose any such cuts.
Bear in mind, though, that the super committee was not supposed to produce a balanced budget, only a plan to lop off about one eighth of the projected deficit over the next 10 years. Surely you'd think they could split the difference: some tax increases in exchange for some entitlement cuts and get a deal.
But that underestimates the political wrath that member of both parties would face from their base voters for making such a deal. You can get politicians to buck their bases in a national emergency. The ballooning national debt may be a crisis, but neither the politicians nor the public seems to see it as an emergency.