“Man an’ boy I’ve seen th’ dimmicratic party hangin’ to th’ raypublicans kindly buildin’ a monymint f’r it an’ preparin’ to spin their declinin’ days in th’ custom house. I’ve gone to sleep nights wondhrin’ where I’d throw away me vote afther this an’ whin I woke up there was that crazyheaded ol’ loon iv a party with its hair sthreamin’ in its eyes, an’ an axe in its hands, chasin’ raypublicans into th’ tall grass. It is nivir so good as whin it is broke, whin rayspictable people speak iv’ it in whispers, an’ whin it has no leaders an’ on’y wan principle, to go in an’ take it away fr’m th’ other fellows.”
— Finley Peter Dunne, “Mr. Dooley’s Opinions”
The blame game is afoot in Washington, even if nothing else is in a government more acrimonious and politically divided than any in the memory of most Americans now living. To be sure, there has been no physical caning of someone on the other side of the aisle as in older and simpler days in the House and Senate. There have been no knock-down-and-drag-out brawls of the sort that once enlivened proceedings.
But the name calling and obvious disdain of one party for the other in the budget and debt ceiling dispute now raging on Capitol Hill is likely as bitter as the prolonged one over slavery that led to the breakup of the Union and the Civil War. (Well, maybe not that bitter. Not yet, anyway.) But when you fool around with the full faith and credit of the United States, as this administration and this Congress most certainly have done, things are bound to get more than a little testy.
That President Barack Obama has not attempted to tone down the inflammatory rhetoric thus far precluding a negotiated agreement between the Republican-controlled House and the Democratic Senate is disappointing. Much more so is his own disparaging of the House Republican leadership and so-called Tea Party “anarchists.”
His refusal to accept anything short of unconditional surrender by Republicans is arrogant and, to put it mildly, not helpful. Only if they give in, he says, will he agree to talk about steps necessary to get the public debt under control, a debt that has exploded on his watch to $17 trillion and counting, with no end in sight other than a fiscal and monetary catastrophe those who follow him in the White House inevitably will face. Apres moi, le deluge — that is what more than a few critics of President Obama already think an apt legacy to carve on the tombstone of his administration.
Setting that tombstone is still three years away, however, and the political strategists who shape the course Democrats and Republicans follow are focused on the midterm elections occurring next year. In particular, their concern is what will happen in the House of Representatives.
Will Republicans remain in control? Will the only backstop Republicans currently have to curb an administration that evidences no desire whatsoever to govern in a bipartisan manner survive? How damaging to their hopes in 2014 and beyond will be the partial shutdown of government and, should it come to that, a default on the public debt?
Opinion polls suggest that Republicans are shouldering more blame than Democrats for the current impasse.
Some of this, no doubt, is fostered by mainstream media’s selective reporting of facts concerning the shutdown.
At the same time, the administration’s ham-handed response, the measures it has taken that obviously inflict pain on the maximum number of those most susceptible to pressure (e.g., veterans, cancer victims, and other recipients of federal assistance) fuels public resentment on both sides of the political spectrum.
How this all washes out, nobody seems to know.
I suspect it only strengthens public disgust at the failure of both parties in Congress to reach agreement, and dismay at the president’s glaring failure to do what he was elected to do — lead.
This is not what hope and change was supposed to be all about.
R.L. Schreadley is a former Post and Courier executive editor.