For those of us who cover the various issues that swirl around politics, it’s always a celebration — we get presents every day. With their never-ending outlandishness, they are the gifts that keep on giving. We careen from one crisis to another, peppered with egregious scandal and/or ridiculous comment. The controversies usually overlap, leaving those of us who happily chronicle them with an embarrassment of embarrassments.
That brings us, in late December, to the ritual of the year-ender. We see these reflections everywhere, those pieces we all weave together on the major developments that dominated the news in the previous 12 months. Of course, some of the stories will slop over into 2014, but they qualify because they lurched to the foreground in 2013. Some are truly bizarre, like the focus right now on “Duck Dynasty” because of the truly hateful comments from the lead character on that TV show. The program is actually kind of funny, but it doesn’t compare with that comedy of errors that was the launch of Obamacare. What more needs to be said? Actually, we’ll see, as the Affordable Care Act really takes hold in January, or continues to slip badly. The best (or worst) is yet to come.
Which is my point. Any fool can create a year-ender. It’s more challenging to do the year-beginninger. What lies ahead — and, for that matter, what lies lie ahead? For instance, the government shutdown threat seems to be behind us for now, what with the mealy-mouthed budget compromise, which is supposed to take shutdown off the table. But that doesn’t mean that our attention-starved leaders aren’t planning other ways to tiptoe up to the point of no return.
No sooner had they finished their self-congratulations for avoiding an immediate disaster than everyone left town while leaving more than a million long-term unemployed in the lurch because Republicans opposed extending benefits and refused to budge. Democrats are planning to make this the first political battle of the year and score points as champions of the desperate. But there’s an even bigger crisis lurking: Each side is playing chicken as we once again face default of the national debt. According to government officials, the United States maxes out on borrowing ability in February. Without new permission from Congress to raise the amount, the nation would finally step over the edge and welch on its loans, seriously diminishing our proud country. It used to be a prospect that was unthinkable, but the outcome is in the hands of the unthinking.
The way they see it, 2014 ends Nov. 4. That’s when you and I decide who controls Congress. On Nov. 5, we will know if Democrats can take back the House of Representatives (highly implausible) and whether the GOP can wrest control of the Senate (quite plausible). The worst-case scenario for the White House is a very real one, and if it plays out, Barack Obama will spend his last two years in office setting records for vetoes. For the remainder of his term, he will preside over a lame-duck dynasty.
Our attention will shift to the battle to replace him. If the current indications hold and Hillary Clinton secures her party’s nomination before the primaries even start, it’s the Republicans who will be the story. And what a show they’ll put on! What a cast of characters we can expect, even before we know who all the characters are. But we definitely will get a lineup of GOP candidates trying to outdo the others with his and her far-right fervor and, of course, contempt for Obamacare. That is unless the health-care package starts getting popular. That would be a surprise, but then there always are surprises. The biggest would be if people keep caring about all this foolishness.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.