Jewish World Review May 12, 2012/ 22 Iyar, 5772
Big Problems for Small Pols
By Roger Simon
Some say the coming election will be about the economy, stupid.
I wish. Pick up a newspaper, turn on the TV, click on a radio, check your Twitter feed. See how much time and space is actually devoted to a serious discussion of the economy.
A few days ago, the election was about whether President Obama should be tried for treason.
A wacko brought this up at a Mitt Romney rally in Ohio on Monday. Romney did not dispute the wacko. A reporter later asked Romney about his silence on the matter. "I don't correct all the questions that get asked of me," Romney said. "I obviously don't agree he should be tried."
But he didn't want to tell the wacko that to her face. Romney has no intention of risking the wacko vote.
On Tuesday, North Carolina voters approved a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, even though a 1996 state law already banned such marriages. As a punishment, the Democrats will go ahead and hold their party convention in North Carolina in September.
Vice President Biden said Sunday he was all for same-sex marriage. President Obama opposed it in the past, saying he was "constantly evolving" on the matter. On Monday, the White House said Obama was still "evolving," but by Wednesday Obama told ABC News, "I've just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married."
Some will say Obama has done this because the gay and lesbian community supports him financially. But it actually took some courage. Same-sex marriage is not popular with older black voters, and Obama needs older black voters. (He needs all minority voters, in fact, since he is almost certain to lose the white vote in 2012, just as he did in 2008.)
Courage is currently out of favor in politics, however. Courage often gets you a one-way ticket to Palookaville.
Republican Sen. Dick Lugar of Indiana has been a staunch conservative for his entire 35 years in the Senate. He opposed Obama both on his health care and stimulus plans. But Lugar also reached out to Democrats on matters he considered vital to U.S. security — making sure the nuclear warheads of the old Soviet Union did not fall into the hands of terrorists and rogue states — and also on matters of principle: He was the chief sponsor in the Senate in 1986 of a law to impose sanctions on the apartheid government of South Africa. When Ronald Reagan vetoed it, Lugar joined with Ted Kennedy to successfully override the veto.
Ten years later, I sat with Lugar in a hotel coffee shop in Austin, Texas. He was running for the Republican nomination for president. "I'm trying to be intellectually responsible," he told me. I resisted the urge to stop taking notes and scribble "Doomed" across his forehead.
Tuesday, Lugar lost his primary fight for another Senate term. Others who have reached their hands across the aisle, like Republican Olympia Snowe of Maine and Democrats Jim Webb of Virginia and Kent Conrad of North Dakota, are not even bothering to seek re-election. What's the use?
Lugar, understandably bitter, said of the man who defeated him: "What he has promised in this campaign is reflexive votes for a rejectionist orthodoxy and rigid opposition to the actions and proposals of the other party. ... This is not conducive to problem-solving and governance."
Of course it's not. But Congress is not about "problem-solving and governance." Quite the opposite. Congress today is about making sure nothing gets done, because if something gets done, then one party or the other will take credit for it.
Rather than risk that, Congress has collapsed from its former state of sluggishness to one of paralysis. For example: A bill to keep the interest on loans to college students at 3.4 percent rather than have it rise to 6.8 percent was expected to have smooth sailing. Both Democrats and Republicans are fond of college students and especially their parents, and it is an election year, after all.
But the bill entered limbo Tuesday, when a party-line vote in the Senate meant Democrats could not get the 60 votes they needed to proceed on the bill. Neither party is actually against the bill, they differ on how to pay for it: Democrats want to raise taxes on the wealthy, and Republicans want to eliminate part of Obama's health care law.
If nothing is done by July 1, the loan rates will double.
Who will stop this? According to The New York Times, the vote on Tuesday was the 21st time Senate Republicans have successfully filibustered a Democratic bill since this Congress took office in January 2011.
Congress used to do things. Now it specializes in not doing things.
I am reminded of a famous exchange in the movie "Sunset Boulevard," starring William Holden and Gloria Swanson.
"You're Norma Desmond," Holden says. "You used to be in silent pictures. You used to be big."
"I am big," she replies. "It's the pictures that got small."
America's problems are still big. It's most of our leaders who have gotten small.
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© 2009, Creators Syndicate