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Can anybody here play this game?

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If I were Thomas Paine (which I sometimes think I am) I would say: "These are the times that try men's souls."

If I were Charles Dickens (which I never think I am) I would say: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."

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And if I were William Butler Yeats (never, ever, never) I would say: "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity."

I am more of the Casey Stengel school of political philosophy, so like that baseball great I say:

"Can't anybody here play this game?"

Apparently not. For the past year or so our chosen representatives in Washington have done everything wrong. Everything.

With the economy foundering like a man overboard in heavy seas, we've attempted to rescue it by throwing it an anchor. We've put productive public workers on the street in the name of fiscal prudence. We've backed away from the building of roads, bridges, and other public works vital to a vibrant economy. We've cut back on our investment in public education, stunting the best hope for future prosperity.

We've treated the unemployment crisis as though it were a mild inconvenience; we've acted as though inflation was the great enemy while the far greater threat of deflation lurked just over the horizon; and we've failed to heed any of the lessons of the past.

To make matters even worse, if that's possible, we squandered our AAA credit rating for no reason at all -- no legitimate reason anyway. As a result, the stock market swooned and markets around the world trembled at the thought of the United States of America playing Russian roulette with its economy.

And even worse yet, the very people who caused this debacle, the iron-willed (with heads to match) Republicans in the House, are claiming victory because of it.

"It happened on your watch, Mr. President," crowed the tea party's Joan of Arc, Michele Bachmann, to a friendly Iowa crowd.

That reminds me of the time Hitler blamed Poland for starting World War II.

Not that the President is entirely without blame. He seems incapable of standing up to the bullies in Congress. His "Gee guys, can't we all be friends and get along?" theory of leadership is well past its sell-by date.

Back when Jimmy Carter's presidency was falling off a cliff, he made a dull speech and a bored copy editor at The Boston Globe wrote the headline "More Mush from the Wimp" across the top of an editorial. It was a joke, intended for internal consumption only.

As those jokes have a way of doing, however, it got into the paper.

The other day when Obama was giving another of his "What we have here is a failure to communicate" talks announcing that he was going to come up with a proposal to save the economy, "more mush from the wimp" flashed through my mind. Alas.

Republicans are now touting a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. "Cut, cap and balance," they say (when you feed them a cracker). It's a truly terrible idea.

What President Obama should be doing now is making a fighting speech informing the nation on why it's a terrible idea, explaining that it would render the government impotent in the face of any emergency that came down the pike and would make great national projects virtually impossible.

He should point out that a balanced budget in hard times just makes the times harder and that even households that virtuously balance their checkbooks go into debt to buy homes and cars and pay for educations.

He should tell us that he will not agree to any more cuts in the budget without a commensurate rise in taxes, and he should explain why that's a good idea.

That's what we need from the President of the United States.

We don't need any more mush from the wimp.

OtherWords columnist Donald Kaul lives in Ann Arbor, Mich.

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