Despite media hysteria during the recently deceased government shutdown, the reality is the United States has had such political paralysis on average every 30 months for nearly a half-century, lasting on average 7 days.
Shutdowns, even these partial ones few people notice outside the D.C. company town, raise many questions: What exactly gets shut down? When isn’t the government shut down over a weekend? Why are these stalemates never solved for good? Will voters even remember this hiatus come November?
But here’s the real question: How did our federal governing officials on both sides slip so easily from doing what they were actually hired to do, namely govern? And instead spend so much time strategizing, maneuvering and posturing to avoid getting blamed for what they didn’t do when they should have?
This is their job, for Chuck’s sake, their full-time job! Other workers can’t throw up their hands, “Oh, this is too hard.”
These elected bumpkins are each getting paid a princely price of $174,000 (plus free gym, swell insurance, cheap food, etc.). That’s for about 133 workdays a year. That makes for a paycheck three-plus-times larger than the average American’s annual pay for 240 workdays. Three times the money for about half the workdays. How does that work?
Yet, somehow, these legislators’ procrastinations, pet programs, politics, personal egos and “principles” don’t permit them to work out a budget compromise? Time after time. Both sides must prance and preen for their base.
Part of the problem is the absence (thanks to voters and resignations) of political moderates to design and broker compromises. This leaves the stage to performance art by the most extreme wings of each party to profess positions they claim prohibit dealing.
Some unreliable media, notably talk-radio and rabble-rousing cable shows, are too busy fanning the flames of feuding factions and filling in the time between ads during the next hour’s shows with likely the laziest questions in the history of interviewing: “What do you make of —————?”
No one in the nation’s capital pauses as common-sense Americans watching at home do, yelling at the TV screen, “When will someone hold these clowns accountable?”
Feeling helpless, frustrated and ignored, millions of these folks decided in 2016 to vote for a political outsider who vowed to disrupt Washington’s failed business-as-usual. He wasn’t/isn’t politically-qualified for the job. But neither, it seems, are those who hold the Capitol jobs.
There’s a myth among conservatives that a hostile media tells Americans what to think. Ever try telling three family members what to think, let alone 323 million Americans? Instead, a hostile media excels at telling Americans what to think about.
Think about the implications of a rogue North Korea with the actual ability to annihilate a half dozen U.S. cities in 30 minutes? Think about the future of the Mideast with an angry, ambitious, aggressive Iran fueling regional fights and its own ICBMs? Think about the social implications of almost one-half of American children being raised by a single parent, mainly due to absent fathers.
No, no time for that.
We get instead repetitive recitations of a dubiously-sourced book by a disreputable author with scandalous details many want to believe about a president many cannot abide. We get weeklong coverage of one word the frustrated president probably said about desperate countries with special immigration deals allowing them to send refugees here to escape those desperate places.
Why? Because this feeds the latest negative narrative that, besides being an upset usurper installed by nefarious Russians, President Trump is a racist. Politically, it may work.
But what about members of Congress diddling instead of funding the government and military? No. We get repeated rehashes of reaction to what the president probably said.
Not because it is of any lasting importance. The opposite, in fact. When a previous vice president, good old Joe Biden, called Obamacare a “big f—ing deal” on national TV, it was funny. They soon sold BFD T-shirts.
“What’s your reaction to———?” does make for easier journalism and perhaps more clicks online. A president’s stupid morning tweets are so tempting to cover, too, because they feed the negative narrative, even if — think about it — the brief messages allow him to distract and control much of each day’s news agenda for an allegedly independent but quite predictable press.
With the hallowed freedom of the press also comes an often-neglected responsibility of the press. That means, at least occasionally, disdaining what’s easiest to do or what fits personal prefabricated politics in favor of genuinely seeking what really matters, what’s important to cover.
Like — oh, say — holding both party’s members of Congress accountable for dodging their fiscal duties so grossly, so routinely and so consequence-free?
Andrew Malcolm is an author and veteran national and foreign correspondent covering politics since the 1960s. Follow him @AHMalcolm.