Bob Franken: Politics — no joke
Some of us who are past puberty will remember a routine by the late comedian George Carlin, in which he plays Al Sleet, the “Hippy Dippy Weatherman,” doing the TV weather forecast.
“The radar is picking up a line of thundershowers,” mumbles the stoned meteorologist. “The radar is also picking up a squadron of Russian ICBMs, so I wouldn’t sweat the thundershowers.”
In that spirit, let’s note the Mayan calendar and the belief of some who warn it’s predicting doomsday on Dec. 21. So, maybe we don’t need to sweat the fiscal cliff.
But what if the world doesn’t end? The default prophecy is that unless the White House and congressional Republicans negotiate some way out of their stalemate, economic disaster strikes at the first of the year. That will be when the federal government tumbles over that budget “cliff” and lands in a cesspool. Almost everyone agrees it should be avoided. But this is Washington.
Right now, the political game players are taunting each other. President Barack Obama sent his Treasury secretary to Capitol Hill to stick it to the Republicans with a proposal that was long on tax hikes for the wealthy and short on specific cutbacks. House Speaker John Boehner predictably took umbrage, calling the current state of play a “stalemate.”
That was designed to upset anybody who was watching all these games. But by now, almost everyone is used to the posturing that goes on in the name of leadership. The truth is that at the same time the two sides are trash talking, they’re also phone talking, working on ideas that can prevent embarrassment to their country and, more importantly, looking for a face-saving way to avoid embarrassment to themselves.
It’s just one of the old rituals that are being observed in your nation’s capital. There is another classic being performed, a variation on an old melodrama with different actors and actresses. The leading lady is Susan Rice.
I am one of those people who gets his kicks assigning appropriate ringtones to those who might call my smartphone. For so many in D.C., it would be the theme from “Jaws.” We see it all the time. When someone in power gets bloodied, the sharks swirl around looking for the final kill. It’s happening again with Rice, who seemed to be on a steady swim to become secretary of state when she went on TV to give a soft-pedaled assessment in the days after the deadly Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi.
Sensing an opportunity, leading GOP senators are swarming, charging political deception. John McCain is the loudest. The situation raises a bunch of questions: Did she mislead the public right before the election? She did, but was it her fault or was she relying on botched CIA talking points? She and the administration say that’s what happened. McCain and his posse are having none of that.
But is this personal? Rice would not ever be considered a candidate for Miss Congeniality, and among the targets of her insults is none other than, you guessed it, John McCain. Back in 2008, she ridiculed him for “strolling around the market in a flak jacket” during a Baghdad visit. Ego has a long memory.
On the other hand, her Democratic supporters are asking if the attention to her personality, or lack thereof, is racist or sexist. She’s black. Sen. John Kerry, mentioned as an option, is not exactly warm and cuddly either. Is a double standard being applied?
Perhaps, but what’s really being applied is heavy dose of poisonous partisanship. It’s one thing, though, when the stakes center on one person, and very much another when the nastiness could send the nation over a cliff. George Carlin is famous for listing the seven dirty words you can’t say on television. Unfortunately, we have an eighth dirty word: “politics.”
Bob Franken is a former CNN correspondent. He can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.