Bob Franken

Hearst-New York Times Column

(As usual, the agreement with syndicators means this column appears here a week after its newspaper release)



(For use by New York Times News Service clients)


C.2011 Hearst Newspapers
WASHINGTON – “The American people may have voted for divided government,” uttered a frustrated President Obama, “but they didn’t vote for a dysfunctional government.”

“Dysfunctional”? How about “disgusting” or other words that describe the sorry state of our national government? Sorry to disagree, Mr. President, but that’s exactly how they did vote. They were already distressed with the poor performance of those in power, so they ignored all the warnings and proceeded to elect fringe candidates who made no bones that they wanted to come to D.C. and wreck the place.

And that’s what they’re doing. It brings to mind that old line “Cheer up, things could be worse – and sure enough they are.” To put it mildly, reason is in even shorter supply these days, kept out by ideologues who won office by spouting overly simplistic solutions.

Now, they have no choice, as they see it, but to stand by their glib one-liners, even when they are exposed to the harsh complexities of grownup politics. Like so many who constantly proclaim their toughness, they’re really too timid to take bold action and face the consequences of breaking naive campaign promises they shouldn’t have made in the first place. They scurry on, chattering away, refusing to acknowledge the probability that their tunnel vision will send the economy down the shaft.

Here’s another “diss” word: “Disdain.”

There’s a lot of that going around. Real Clear Politics, an online politics blog, averages all the major public opinion polls. Its July 27 average showed President Obama’s job approval rating at just 45 per cent, but that is stratospheric considering the congressional number, just barely over 19 per cent.

Those who believe the country is headed in the right direction amount to 26 per cent of those asked. They’re either the wealthy or those who watch cartoons when the news is on. For the most part, voters are showing true buyers’ remorse, with the next chance to undo the damage over a year away when we have elections again.

Forget about recall. The founding fathers clearly were striving for stability when they decided on the “separation of powers” form of government instead of the “fusion of powers” approach that characterizes a parliamentary system. Unlike those setups, the United States doesn’t have a “No Confidence” mechanism that can lead to a new election before terms are completed. The tenures of U.S. officeholders, in all branches, are nearly set in stone. As the Congressional Research Service reported in 2010 when the subject came up, “No member Congress has ever been recalled in the history of the United States.”

The Constitution leaves it up to the representatives and senators to clean their own houses.

But what if we’ve concluded we bought some lemons? Now what? Are we stuck with that “dysfunctional government” effectively controlled by a bunch of Tea Party-backed ideologues who shun any compromise that doesn’t fulfill their concept of a national destiny? In this case, they turn their backs on the consequences in pursuit of a purity that may contaminate the entire economy.

They must have skipped the junior high school civics classes that covered the Constitution’s promise to “promote the general welfare.” They argue that their crusade will promote the general welfare in the long run, even if they risk doing severe damage to millions of lives.

Instead of that “tyranny of the majority” that our ancestors feared, a tyranny of an extremist minority constantly leaves us in crisis mode, zealously imposing its will in the face of common sense, to the detriment of the common good.

It’s a terrifying display of recklessness and fecklessness. Even if the economic mess is cleaned up, another confrontation will erupt and there will probably be several more before there’s a chance to replace the current cast of characters. The threat will always be here that the “dysfunction” will cause disaster.

(Email: bob(at) On the Web:

AP-WF-07-28-11 2117GMT

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