The losing game

Always on the lookout for a silver lining, let’s be thankful that in the past few days, as we witness our national leaders disgrace themselves, we aren’t hearing much about “American exceptionalism.” Russian President Vladimir Putin set off the latest tiff about it, and he’s got to be chortling right now, because our national government is looking exceptional, all right — exceptionally ridiculous.


Of late, our political system is being compared to the Italian one, which famously lurches from crisis to crisis. It wouldn’t be all that surprising if critics there started complaining that they look too much like the Americans. In Washington, it’s like watching the Keystone Kops, except that it isn’t funny.

Actually, it’s dangerous. We’re held captive by our own democracy, one that was designed to accommodate widely divergent points of view. However, the companion piece is that our leaders would be motivated by minimal standards of reason and would have the intelligence to understand that this only works if there is compromise, a meeting of the minds. Tragically today, their minds are controlled by emotions and, frankly, ignorance or ambition that exceeds all bounds of decency.

All of these characteristics explain the absurd insistence from some of these malefactors that when it comes to raising the borrowing authority to avoid a humiliating national default, a default wouldn’t be all that bad. There’s even one congressman, Ted Yoho, R-Fla., who argues that the shock ultimately would “bring stability to the world markets.” Reality check: Not raising the debt ceiling would be an economic disaster and would humiliate our nation. Happily, the American people aren’t fooled by such nonsense, which accounts for a Wall Street Journal poll showing the approval rating of the entire Republican Party at a measly 24 percent; the tea party is scraping by with 1 percent. Of course, the Democrats’ number isn’t sparkling either; it’s at 43 percent. But John Boehner definitely could be forgiven for screaming “I told you so!” He and some others in his party who’d been around this track before had warned that the government shutdown would produce a backlash against the GOP. Instead, the militants listened to Ted Cruz and the other leaders of the Over Their Heads gang, and they were able to run roughshod over common sense.

Some of them still cling to the irrational belief that their destructiveness is constructive. Here’s the real deal: This “Slimdown,” as Fox News correctly calls it, as opposed to shutdown, is nevertheless harming a lot of people. We’ve all heard stories about the desperate cancer patients who are prevented from entering the last-resort experimental program at the National Institutes of Health and the very young children who suddenly are being denied access to federally provided nutrition. Boehner angrily protested that this “isn’t a damn game,” but of course it is exactly that, a cynical and destructive game causing real harm to real people.

How else should we describe the maneuvering to save face as his accomplices keep introducing mini bills to resume funding of various individual programs that are popular, while keeping most agencies or parts of them closed? It’s their mealy-mouthed way to extricate themselves from the mess they created with their ill-conceived plan to stop Obamacare in its tracks just as it was ramping up.

What they ended up doing is handing a big favor to the president by taking the focus off a really botched beginning to his pride and joy. Now all the attention is on their ruinous amateurism, which has rattled the world’s financial system and further eroded vital international confidence in the United States. To prevent our system from even more embarrassment, we need to return to the stability that is supposed to define this great nation. We can’t allow it to be destroyed by ceding control to the careless and mindless.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.


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