Bob Franken

King features Column

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


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The president himself called it a “political circus,” and the season of clowning around has begun. The focus of President Barack Obama and members of Congress this time is squarely on jobs. Sad to say, it is mainly on saving theirs.

Oh yeah, they’re also trying to appear like they’re doing something about the 14 million people who are unemployed in this nation and the 10 million untallied others who are struggling with lower-paying work than they used to have, and sadly, those who have given up looking.

People can be forgiven for concluding that the D.C. politicians simply were going through the motions of caring about anything but themselves. There was the president, before a joint House-Senate session, outlining a new stimulus program with a price tag of $447 billion. He gave the legislation a catchy title, “The American Jobs Act,” and got right to the point:

“The question is whether in the face of a national crisis we can stop the political circus and do something to help the economy, whether we can restore some of the fairness and security that has defined this nation since our beginning.”

Well, the answer didn’t look all that promising, if the first reactions were any indication. The Republicans largely sat on their hands. Quoth Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell: “This isn’t a jobs plan. It’s a re-election plan.”

Mercifully, it wasn’t too long before we could watch the Green Bay Packers-New Orleans Saints game that followed — a game that somehow started as scheduled even though players and management struggled for months over bitter differences. In the end, they demonstrated that they could negotiate their way past the differences. All it took was deciding that they had a mutual interest in working out a deal.

That feeling of common purpose is sorely missing among the players on the two sides in politics. They are each singularly consumed by the desire to get re-elected by making sure the other doesn’t.

What is so galling is not just that they are ruining the lives of millions, it’s that they are making things worse by creating what could be a self-fulfilling prophecy of further downfall.

As study after study points out, an economy is something of a vicious circle. A Sept. 7 poll sponsored by Discover Financial Services shows that consumer confidence is in the tank. When 64 percent of people rate the economy as “poor,” it means that people won’t spend money because they’re afraid. When they don’t spend, fears of a new recession could be realized.

Still, politicians on both sides persist with their damaging behavior even though it’s demonstrably self-destructive. Another month, another slew of polls that place congressional approval as low as a startling 12 percent. Seven out of eight responded with disapproval.

The president fares somewhat better, at around 43 percent approval, but that’s the lowest point of his White House tenure. The opposition, as we witnessed in the GOP debates, is more than happy to kick him when he’s down — and determined to kick him out after one term — while he seemingly goes out of his way to help by staying unruffled when provocations definitely call for some ruffle.

Voter emotions range from disgusted resignation to just plain disgust. Meanwhile, what voters get is dithering and posturing. “There should be nothing controversial about this legislation,” Obama declared. But at this stage of our stunted political development, there is almost nothing that is uncontroversial.

There is one tiny glimmer of hope. All the contempt piling on our fearful leaders could mean that they’ll at least nibble around the edges of unemployment. “The American people,” said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, “want us to find common ground. I’ll be looking for it.”

That might reflect nervousness among our officeholders that if they don’t do something about all those people out of work, come next Election Day, they just might join them.

© 2011 Bob Franken

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