Among the most farcical rules around is a provision in the guidelines for what’s ethical and what’s not for members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. Setting aside the point that “congressional ethics” is an oxymoron, there is a prohibition against “bringing discredit” to either body. How absurd, considering it could be applied right now against the many who contrived the government shutdown/debt-ceiling crises.
Whoopee. They finally managed, just barely, to avert disaster, but not before polls measuring the approval rating of Congress had dropped like a stone. One could say that qualified as “discredit.” Actually, it’s more like disgust. If one person could be singled out for blame, it would probably be the junior senator from Texas, Ted Cruz. Junior was warned over and over again by those in the GOP who weren’t foaming at the mouth that pushing to defund Obamacare was suicidal. Inflaming his fellow Bravehearts, who then bullied the Republican chicken-hearts, was a strategy for certain defeat. His insistence on continuing to sail his showboat full speed ahead was little more than an unprincipled effort to get name recognition with no regard for the danger to not just his party, but the credibility of the legislative branch. His deceptions and demagoguery embarrassed the country, reinforcing real doubts in the world about the stability of the United States. All because he wanted to get onto the president-wannabe fast track.
He recruited Sarah Palin and some of the other cheap-shot artists on the fringes who were only too glad to share in his reflected inglory. He and they constantly recite platitudes about fighting the corrupt establishment. That’s certainly a worthy cause. But do we really want our banner to be the Confederate flag waved at one of their demonstrations, or should we rally around the anti-Muslim invective from another speaker at one of their contrived events?
Don’t expect his timid colleagues to take him on. He’s made Republicans quake in their boots, as they grovel to the extremists who itch for the chance to oust anyone who hints at even the slightest tendency to compromise.
It explains why the drama kings and queens who hold office are too terrified to work things out until the last possible instant. They actually just wish these situations simply would go away. The truth is these dual budget crises could have been resolved long ago. Everyone knew what the deadlines were; the mechanisms to negotiate were in place for months but were ignored by the trembling “leaders,” who are unwilling to lead. So there was a vacuum, which Ted Cruz and the other opportunists were all too willing to fill. When the time was ripe, Cruz swooped right in, conducting a 21-hour filibuster that had no purpose whatsoever except to raise his profile. Those of us in the dark journalistic arts are so afraid of being tagged “liberal media” that we give Cruz far more exposure than he deserves. His game is an old one, but we get taken in every time. And suddenly he actually becomes newsworthy, because we’ve made him a significant voice, far beyond his abilities.
Democrats love Ted Cruz. He is singlehandedly leading their adversaries down the road to destruction. Again, the polls provide documentation: One of them shows that approval of the Republican Party is down to 24 percent. That’s one in four respondents holding the GOP in any sort of esteem. No wonder President Barack Obama refused to negotiate. Why should he? All he had to do is sit back and wait for his enemies to implode. The longer he waited, the more they looked like obnoxious zealots. The unfortunate part is that this mess has caused severe damage to our standing in the world and cost billions of dollars. Certainly Congress has been seriously discredited, but that’s not the worst: The nation, meaning all of us, has been diminished.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.