Bob Franken

King Features Syndicate Column

(Writer’s note: As usual, the arrangement with the syndicators means this column appears here a week after its newspaper release. Obviously, since then, the parties have reached their budget agreement, temporarily averting what some construe as a crisis.)


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Don’t you love the TV anchors who treat us like idiots when they describe issues of great magnitude by saying something like “If you placed all the eggs in this recall end to end, they would reach the very top of the Empire State Building!”?

Actually, they would fall and splatter, leaving a terrible mess on 5th Avenue, but let’s not quibble. The news-huckster consultants have won. So let’s talk about the Washington budget negotiations.

If all the dollar bills of the national debt were stretched out, they would go to Pluto and back. The amounts in the cutbacks that cause such mortal combat between Democrats and Republicans wouldn’t even make it halfway to Mars.

This debate seems to happening on a different planet. The drama king and queen politicians in the nation’s capital are putting on their theater of the irrelevant as they scramble to come up with some sort of unhappy medium deal to keep the government we no longer can afford up and running.

What a performance! On any given day, we could count on bizarre showmanship from those of the far-out right, like Indiana Republican Mike Pence. He’s the one who yelled, at a Capitol tea party rally, “It’s time to pick a fight!” That means make painful cuts to every program that doesn’t affect a hard-liner’s particular district, nor its voters, nor its corporate campaign contributors, nor its families’ individual federal subsidies. On the left, we hear Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid portray his forces as the defenders of the children, the elderly and other “innocent bystanders” whose lifeline programs are in danger.

Meanwhile, backstage, talks aim for a deal that allows all sides to save face. They accomplish that by claiming to rub the others’ faces in the mud. Each side declares victory and tries to appease its militants — at least those who are appease-able or who haven’t been consumed by their own “no compromise” sound bites.

If they succeed and a devil’s bargain is struck, the federal bureaucrats continue to work. At the same time, those who have lost funding scream bloody murder. Then each and every one immediately moves on to the next budget crisis.

It brings to mind an old proverb: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. But why bother?” … something like that. It does have the feel of hamsters on a treadmill.

The next big crisis is debt ahead. Yes, it’s the debt ceiling, which must be raised beyond its current $14.3 trillion limit so that the U.S. government can keep borrowing into an uncertain future but avoid a certain catastrophic financial default. Unless the debt ceiling is raised in time (meaning a few weeks), then solvency-speaking, we’re toast.

Assuming it’s not “game over” by then, the gamesmanship continues with the conservatives demanding gargantuan savings in government programs with no tax increase. All slash and no cash.

Vital though the stakes are for the country, for those directly involved in the maneuvering, avoiding national bankruptcy is secondary to 2011 election considerations. Maybe, however, the manipulators should consider how they’re disgusting everybody. A Real Clear Politics averaging of the latest major March polls shows President Barack Obama’s job-approval rating at a dismal 46.6 percent. For Congress, it’s 24 percent.

How sad it is that those who even bother showing up at the polls will be there not to vote for a candidate but strictly against one or the other. And why not, given the foolishness voters witness from our leaders? To put it in anchor-speak, it would fill countless farms’ bullpens.

© 2011 Bob Franken

Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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