Bob Franken

King Features Column

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


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While all the principals dither about whether they’re seeking a big deal or a not-so-big one, this is a huge deal: House Speaker John Boehner has won the mythical Sound Bite of the Week Award. As always, the competition is brutal, but in describing the maddening intricacies of the sputtering debt-ceiling negotiations as “a Rubik’s Cube that we haven’t worked out yet,” he captured the very essence of the twists and turns that frustrate a solution. He also scored points for clarity — using a plain-spoken butcomprehensive metaphor. Not only that, it was delivered in a clear eyed way (yes, that’s a cheap shot).

Most importantly, it was accurate, which sets it apart from the usual misleading bites. On any given day, the partisans stomp to microphones and cameras to confuse any given issue with their distortions. Usually, while facile, they are not entirely factual.

They blow hard from both sides and sabotage the quest for compromise, or as President Barack Obama put it in his news conference, “voices in our respective parties that are trying to undermine that effort.”

When the debate focuses on Social Security, the granddaddy (literally) of all the impossible political issues, someone always pops up on the left to shout “Social Security has never contributed to the deficit. Ever!” That’s true. But what happens in 25 years or so, when trustees say the self-sustaining trust fund will be depleted? Who will finance payments to the glut of senior citizens, unless there is reform very soon? As for the massive, costly entitlement reform, meaning Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, they are huge drains right now.

Meanwhile, on the other flank, a favorite is “job killing,” the ultimate, uh, killer sound bite. Everything the right opposes is “job killing,” a useful accusation anytime anyone has the audacity to suggest adding revenue … readily available revenue. That means added taxes and reduced subsidies for our most prosperous individuals and corporate entities, who are paying far short of their fair share back into a nation that provided a framework for creating their fortunes.

That deception is starkly exposed right now. As the wealthy add to their piles of money, they hoard it. Witness all the big companies and money marketeers who report hefty profits. They don’t spread that around. For proof, look no further than the fact that one in six Americans is either jobless or underemployed — or worst of all, has given up even trying to find work.

Back here in Washington, most of those who are supposed to be pulling us out of this mess are merely thrashing around. Can anybody explain, for instance, why it was so important to pull the senators off their week’s vacation so they could merely hang out and make mischief while the meaningful discussions about avoiding a financial calamity involved just a few of their leaders meeting behind closed doors.

The pace of the fits and starts has picked up, but the White House sessions have so far failed to find a way out of the partisan maze where every turn is blocked by thoughtless finger-pointing from both sides. Actually, make that finger-giving. And if you’relooking for meaningful sound bites, how about this one from the new head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, who said on ABC’s “This Week” that if the talks don’t produce an accord to raise the borrowing limit, there will be worldwide “interest hikes, stock markets taking a hit and real nasty consequences.”

If, as Obama put it, a deal is reached by “both parties taking on their sacred cows,” it will be proof that “this town can actually do something every once in a while” Or not. In that case, the debt Rubik could become debt ruin.

© 2011 Bob Franken

Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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