Washington can’t even do nothing right.
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Doing nothing was all Congress had to do this week when the Senate considered non-bindingresolutions on the Iraq war. That’s non-binding – as in non-event, no-impact, do-nothing and irrelevant. And they couldn’t even get that right.
While Iraq tips from chaos to catastrophe, leaders in both parties gridlocked over whether to debate a non-binding referendum on President Bush’s Iraq policy. They couldn’t talk about a national crisis, much less solve it. It’s a bipartisan disgrace.
“This would be like Congress having a vote in the depths of the Depression to acknowledge that times were bad – and not being able to even bring the issue to a vote,” said California-based Democratic strategist Chris Lehane.
Washington is “fiddling while Baghdad burns,” he said.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Republican, said legislative fights over slavery and the Vietnam War were messy, but those debates “weren’t as childish or trivial” as what we saw this week.
“What is particularly sad is that the public has a correct understanding that none of the maneuvers matter because it’s all so petty and, basically, public relations,” Gingrich said.
This is a “Katrina moment.” Like the 2005 hurricane that ravaged the Gulf Coast and exposed the incompetence of local, state and federal governments, the Senate fiasco reminded Americans of what angers them most about today’s leaders – their failure to lead.
The Senate reached a stalemate Tuesday when Republicans moved to block a resolution opposing Bush’s troop escalation plans and Democrats dodged a resolution calling for no reductions in spending.
Republicans didn’t want the president embarrassed. Democrats didn’t want to go on record opposing money for troops, nor did they want to see a resolution pass that essentially backed Bush’s position. Several senators are running for president in 2008, so there was more than the usual amount of butt-covering.
It was all a big game, and the public had no seat at the table. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., put it this way: “I think most Americans view this as political theater, that it is more about us than supporting the troops.”
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., had the audacity to brag that Democrats seized the “high ground.” He may be right in a strictly political sense but, morally, both parties sank to new lows.
The sad thing is that Americans understand that the Middle East is a complicated place, and that there are no easy answers to Iraq. Few voters favor the extremes – staying the course or an immediate and full withdrawal. They just want their leaders to do the right thing, whatever that might be.
“They’ll cut Congress a little slack because the issue is so hard,” said Tom Rath, a GOP strategist and lawyer in New Hampshire. “But (the inaction of the Senate) furthers the skepticism – or cynicism even – that makes people think the political system is incapable of resolving these difficult questions.”
Polls show a dramatic decline in the public’s faith in government and politics. They are tired of lies and spin, and the Internet makes it easier for them to sniff both out. They are anxious about the direction of the country, and want a quick course correction.
Headed into a fiercely competitive 2008 presidential race, this uneasy environment makes voters hungry for authenticity and accountability in politics. Will we get either?
“This situation merely reinforces my thinking that there is an opportunity for a transformative candidate, someone whose message and, more importantly, campaign processes …truly represents a new governing philosophy that will tap into voter anxiety about the magnitude of the issues America faces (Iraq, globalization, loss of power, withering of the American Dream, nuke proliferation, Iran, etc.) coupled with a sense that no one out there really projects leadership,” Lehane said.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers will eventually break the deadlock and engage in a debate about war. Public demand will see to that. But after this week’s events, it’s fair to ask whether Congress is even good for nothing.
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