Bob Franken

Hearst-New York Times Column

(As usual, the arrangement with the syndicators means these columns appear here a week after their newspaper release)

^AMERICAN POLITICS: LOW SCORE, HIGH SCORN@< ^(For use by New York Times News Service clients)@< ^By BOB FRANKEN ^C.2011 Hearst Newspapers WASHINGTON _Members of Congress, past and present, are among the many that etiquette assigns a designation of ``HonorableÆÆ in front of their name. The proper address on a letter, for instance, is ``Honorable (Name) Maybe the time has come to undo that tradition. If you decide to attend some meeting with your congressperson if he or she is masochistic enough to confront constituents during the August vacation, consider offering this question: ``Are you ashamed"ask sweetly, ``that you are in Congress?" If the answer is ``no"be concerned. Be very concerned. He or she has just come slinking back from Washington, taking part in a process that barely avoided doing serious and lasting harm to the credit of the United States. In the process, the participants brought serious discredit on themselves, as well as their institution and the country itself. Russia's spook-strongman Vladimir Putin jumped at the chance to say that the U.S. is ``living like parasites off the global economy" Harsh? Possibly so. But listen to the words volunteered by respondents in a Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll that asked: ``If you had to use one single word to describe your impression of the budget negotiations in Washington, what would that word be?"The survey concluded on July 31, as the debt deal was consummated. ``Ridiculous"topped the list, but ``Stupid" ``Childish," ``Idiotic" and ``Pathetic" were well represented. A New York Times/CBS News poll showed Friday that public disapproval of Congress is at an all-time high. A record 82 percent of Americans now disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job. More than four out of five people surveyed said that the recent debt ceiling debate was more about gaining political advantage than about doing what is best for the country. Nearly three-quarters said that the debate had harmed the image of the U.S. in the world.

Our nation has survived, for the moment, another “Do Something Even If It’s Wrong” plan as the alternative to economic catastrophe.

And this definitely is wrong. It is absurd that the wealthy get away with paying so little in taxes for their opportunities to get rich. Given the unregulated wheeling and dealing by far too many of them, maybe we should levy a teeny fee for what sometimes seems like their license to steal.

But their Republican enablers put up a barrier, while the Democrats scurry around wailing “Woe is me, woe is meÆÆ or calling the result of their most recent defeat a “Satan Sandwich”Whatever that is, it’s tough to swallow and we are left with an upset stomach about a system that cannot survive if people are sick of the way it works.

Part of this devil’s bargain is the appointment of a congressional committee to come up with some sort of financial rescue plan that will assure the credit rating services that they don’t have to ultimately lower the USA’s triple-A rating and push all citizens further along those dire economic straits that so many navigate already. Another committee. Whoopee.

We’ve had a bunch of those already and they all come to the same conclusion about the financial mess: A solution can only be found in tough austerity AND added revenue. The fat cats have to be a little less gluttonous. Each time one more blue ribbon panel issues its report saying just that, the members are thanked for their service. Then ignored by the officeholders, who don’t want to make tough decisions.

They even had trouble with the easy ones. Consider how Congress just skipped town, leaving that squabble over the Federal Aviation Administration unresolved. Until a huge public outcry forced congressional leaders to come to their senses, about 75,000 had been laid off nationwide, with various construction projects temporarily halted. Planes kept flying, thanks in great part to conscientious airport inspectors staying on without pay, handling their job-related expenses with their own money and credit cards. How grotesque was that?

Republicans and Democrats accused each other of “petty politics”. Both were correct, although both were guilty of obvious redundancy.

If not ashamed, we can only hope that some of them, in some off-camera moment, feel a twinge of embarrassment. Embarrassed, like their entire country is.

(Email: bob(at); on the Web:

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