Franken: The losing game

I’ve described politics as the dark side of government, but, as usual, things have gotten worse: To a large extent anymore, politics is just about all there is to government, certainly on the national level. The sad election choice for Americans has degenerated into “Pick Your Poison.” Republicans largely offer a field of bizarre extremist candidates who not only should be laughed off the stage but shouldn’t have been in the theater in the first place. They are enabled by Democrats, who are so inept that they waste every opportunity to advance their progressive agenda.

Their standard-bearer for now is Barack Obama, of course, but he and his peeps are blowing their chance to shape the country in their image. The most glaring example is Obamacare. My old friend Ron Fournier, who proves that “respected journalist” is not necessarily an oxymoron, cites in the National Journal how, “It’s getting difficult and slinking toward impossible to defend the Affordable Care Act.” His frustration boils over at the latest decision to delay another employer mandate till after the midterm election, which Fournier describes as further proof that “The White House has politicized its signature policy.”

Setting aside the criticism that the law itself was twisted by special-interest lobbyists and a ruthless GOP opposition into a Rube Goldberg substitute for genuine reform, it still offers some improvement for millions of people who had been shut out of their right simply to be well. The administration’s carelessness between passage and reality has undermined its credibility. It’s worsened even now by a White House that lurches, blinded by shortsightedness.

Even with the latest report that more people are signing on, the mixed messages give powerful ammunition to those whose passion it is to destroy the current presidency by demonizing Obama and flogging him with his signature program. He makes it easy by symbolically wearing a “Kick Me” sign.

He’s allowed Sen. Ted Cruz and others of his ilk to thrive. Frankly, Cruz should have been shoved to the side, considering how last year he was out front demanding repeal of health care as the price to avoid a government shutdown and national financial default. When that blew up in his face, the Democrats had him on the run for only a very short time. Immediately, the grotesque collapse of the healthcare.gov website, followed by disclosures of outright misrepresentations by the president and the frightened veering like this latest delay, allowed Cruz and his running buddies to regain traction in a big hurry.

They’ve learned that they can have it both ways. They can demagogue the debt-ceiling issue, for instance, knowing full well that their weary leaders will see to it that a disaster is avoided. In the House, Speaker John Boehner is taking heat for rescuing the crazies from themselves. In the Senate, it’s Minority Leader Mitch McConnell fending off Cruz, who couldn’t care less that McConnell’s re-election is endangered back home in Kentucky.

The hard-liners could vote against new borrowing authority and brag to their voters back home that they did, secure in the knowledge that they would not take the blame for forcing the nation into financial disgrace. While there will be some distractions this year, like immigration reform (don’t bet on that one), the thicket has been cleared. The campaign is about Obamacare.

Democrats will have to play defense, mired in the garble from the White House. Cruz and the others can lick their chops as they contemplate the real possibility of controlling the entire Congress for two years and then taking the whole shebang in 2016, stuffing even Hillary. She, of course, saw her own effort at health-care reform go down in flames. Maybe it has become a political fourth rail, but now that Barack Obama has grabbed it, he can’t let go. Ted Cruz and the others won’t.

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

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