Bob Franken

Sweet Talk Sour Result

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Some routines get a laugh no matter how old they are. For me, that includes the social occasion that turns into an unmitigated disaster of angry arguments and hard feelings. Standing in the debris, one of the organizers says to the other, “Well, that went well.” So it is with President Barack Obama’s outreach to the Republicans.
“Outreach” is Washington’s term du jour. So there was Obama, getting together — behind closed doors, of course — with his House Republican antagonists. He had an intimate dinner with some GOP senators and then lunch with House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan. After that, an appearance before the entire House Republican gang.
Apparently, there was no flying food, but the next day, Speaker John Boehner fired off a Washington Post op-ed saying that the president has failed to move “beyond the same proposals and Democratic dogma.” Of course, it probably didn’t help that beforehand on ABC, Mr. Obama admitted that, when it comes to a real deal, “the differences are just too wide.”
Meanwhile Ryan responded by releasing a new plan that is nothing but a poke in POTUS’ eye. It would do away with Obamacare, for starters. Actually, that qualifies as a nonstarter. It also says about all that needs to be said about the president’s stab at private charm.
As we all know, the guy treasures secrecy. One gets the impression he envies the cardinals in Rome, who were able to clear the conclave room with one “extra omnes,” which in Latin means “everybody out!” Thus far, Washington’s quest to come up with a deficit reduction has produced nothing but blown smoke. While the cardinals could announce “Habemus Papa” in Vatican City, it is strictly “Non Habemus Budgetum” in the District of Columbia. Or in Pig Latin “Ixnay Udgetbay.”

As all the cognitive dissonance was going on, the right-wingers were holding their annual hatefest. CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, was the D.C. forum for those competing to come across as the most strident Obama basher. It was a tough competition by design. Only the harshest could participate, with the possible exception of Mitt Romney, who got a pity exemption. Chris Christie was among those shut out, probably because the New Jersey governor committed the unpardonable sin in the wake of Hurricane Sandy of complimenting the administration’s response.
Meanwhile, Mr. President’s fellow Democrats are on record worrying that he is going to give up too much on entitlements and cave on his demands for more revenue, meaning higher taxes on the rich and corporate behemoths. Ryan and the others from GOPland are dug in on taxes. In Demland, the progressives are just as dug in against cutting entitlements.
The people in Obamaland need to worry. All this foolishness is taking a toll on their guy. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows his approval rating has slipped to 50 percent, extinguishing the election afterglow. Those who trust his handling of the economy now number 44 percent, versus 40 percent for congressional Republicans. That’s a pretty thin margin considering that only 24 percent have an overall positive view of those congressional Republicans.
What it really reflects is a growing disillusionment with the whole bunch of them. Let’s see, we have a sequester they couldn’t avoid, even with its scary promise to inflict a death of a thousand cuts on public services and the economy. Meanwhile, a government shutdown is just a few days away. Both sides say they want to sidestep it, but don’t hold your breath; newbie GOP Senate stud Ted Cruz says that unless Obamacare is eliminated, let the shutdown begin. Don’t forget that another debt-ceiling crisis also lurks around the corner. About this latest smokescreen, this “play nice” shtick: Well, it isn’t going well.

© 2013 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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