Country is cranky with government dysfunction

February 21, 2010


This is the winter of everyone’s discontent. The left is angry about the demise of a sweeping overhaul of health care. The right is angry about the growth of Washington’s power. Democrats are angry at Republican intransigence. Republicans are angry at Democratic arrogance. Liberals think Barack Obama has left his progressive moorings. Conservatives think the president is a closet Communist.

This dyspepsia rumbles within the parties, too. The Democrats are divided between purists and pragmatists. The Republicans are divided between regulars and rebels.

The House doesn’t trust the Senate, either, and vice versa — always a factor in Washington, but moreso today — and virtually everybody harbors doubts about the president.

This national bad mood extends beyond the capital. The latest Rasmussen Reports poll found three out of four likely American voters at least somewhat angry at the government’s policies. Nearly one in two said they are very angry.

Ordinarily a president and a Congress of the same party have the same priorities. Then again, ordinarily the House speaker and the president have a basic working agreement. But just as Speaker Thomas P. O’Neill Jr. and President Jimmy Carter hardly ever saw eye to eye — they came from different worlds, one from the wards of Cambridge, the other from the peanut fields of Plains — Speaker Nancy D. Pelosi and President Obama seldom seem to read from the same hymnal.

The president wants a broad spending freeze, excluding defense. The speaker wants any freeze to include defense spending. In those two sentences is a world of difference, and none of the deference that a Democratic Congress customarily has for a Democratic president.

Members of Congress like to signal their independence from the executive branch; they’re jealous of their prerogatives and customarily cite article and section of the Constitution to buttress their claims. But this Congress seems to want to declare independence specifically from the Obama administration.

Then again, some members of Congress have even declared independence from Congress.

Last week’s declaration by Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh that he wouldn’t seek a third term stunned the political establishment. Here was a second-generation senator, a man bred to be a presidential aspirant by a father who himself was a presidential aspirant, someone whose entire adult life, from the office of secretary of state of Indiana to the governor’s mansion to two terms in Washington, had been in elected office, avowing that political life was empty and that Washington politics was corroded beyond repair.

In a speech full of poignant remarks, none was as chilling as this: “I was raised in a family that believes public service is the highest calling in the church, that what matters is not what you take from life, but what you give back. I believe that still.”

He received extraordinary attention for uttering an ordinary idea — that “Congress is not operating as it should” — and that there is “too much partisanship and not enough progress, too much narrow ideology and not enough practical problem-solving.” You can hear that critique on any radio station on the dial or in any coffee shop in the country. Hell, you can hear it at your own dinner table.

Or you can look at the latest Washington Post ABC News poll — you almost have to see figures like this with your own eyes to believe them — which showed that only about one in three Americans plan to vote to re-elect their representative in Congress.

All this suggests a political upheaval of massive proportions.

We thought we saw a political upheaval of massive proportions 15 months ago, when a center-right nation elected a black man with a liberal voting record to the presidency. Now even those who find former Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska irritating are irritated that they can find some virtue in the cloying question she asked recently: “How’s that hopey-changey thing working out for ya?”

So in this environment it is not unreasonable to think that incumbents, at all levels of government but especially on Capitol Hill, could lose in percentages far larger than any that have been seen in a half-century or more.

Though we columnists write easily of political earthquakes, it is important to remember that in every election since 1954, at least 90 percent of House members who sought re-election have won another term. In some years, the re-election rate has been as high as 98 percent. Indeed, re-election has been so nearly automatic that DePauw University held a three-day conference to examine why elections were basically over before they were even held.

This year, retirements are running slightly above average, but it is possible that as many as 20 percent of congressional incumbents will be defeated, some in primaries, which ordinarily is almost unheard of, and others in general elections. Such a result would amount to a repudiation of the 2008 election, which itself was a repudiation of the 2004 election — and to a remarkable political phenomenon: There has never been a time when people voted for something that caused such widespread optimism and, then, such a swift onset of disappointment.

“The time period from euphoria to desperation,” says L. Sandy Maisel, director of the Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement at Colby College, “is at an all-time short.” Welcome to a cranky country.

— David Shribman is executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.


anon1958 8 years, 3 months ago

Now even those who find former Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska irritating are irritated that they can find some virtue in the cloying question she asked recently: “How’s that hopey-changey thing working out for ya?”

It would be working out much better if we lived in a nation that was not so hopelessly ignorant that someone like Sarah Palin would be on the presidential ticket of a major political party.

JustNoticed 8 years, 3 months ago

Typical Tom: miss anon1958's point and then spew your usual spew.

tomatogrower 8 years, 3 months ago

This is why Holland has a chance to beat Brownback. People are sick of Congress, and let's not forget that Brownback is a player in Washington.

Scott Drummond 8 years, 3 months ago

"Welcome to a cranky country."

No kidding. The public is sick of the crop of politicians that put their own interests in maintaining the power they have been given first and foremost, the interests of their party second, the interests of their monied financial backers third (although you could also say they keep this as job one since it leads to their continued power) and the good of the country and its citizens somewhere below the importance of ordering office supplies. The political whores are aided and abetted by a corrupt mainstream media with similarly skewed priorities. The public, directed by the mainstream media to vent their anger against whatever party is not currently in power, flails back and forth exchanging the current crop of criminals for the current brand proffered by the media. It hasn't been successful in the lives of most of us. Cutting out the tentacles of corruption will not come from either political party or any information offered in the mainstream media - the powers of the status quo have that game completely wired. We must act individually to take back the country for a viable and productive middle class. What have you done? Suggestions here might just inspire someone to join you and make things a bit better.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 8 years, 3 months ago

"Dysfunctional" government has been the overarching policy goal of Republicans ever since the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, and they've been wildly successful. So successful that to be a "moderate Democrat" has come to mean emulating Republicans in their enthusiasm for corporate-sponsored corruption.

Jeff Kilgore 8 years, 3 months ago

Our populace is so delusioned with the bailouts, massive debt, and job losses, that we're even considering Sarah Palin as president. Who is Sarah Palin? She is the girl next door who would've been a housewife in the 1960s, maybe the secretary of a mayor in a city the size of Lawrence. Probably one remembered for looks, not works.

Now, in our anti-intellectual, our-God-is-an-awesome-God, you-betcha world, this complete, and I mean entirely, completely, utterly, in-over-her-head, write-the-on-hands for answers, deer-in-the-headlights, smile and wink when you have no idea what the questions means let alone how to answer it, devoid of history, workings of government, strangeoid family, you know, tout the importance of virginity while your own teenager is makin' babies--is a fraud,

a complete fraud.

If Obama is a stretch as a political leader, Palin is the jester as king. How she can even be mentioned as President of the United States is a disgrace.
Our country wishes to be ruled by an incompetent. What hopeless times we live in.

Scott Drummond 8 years, 3 months ago

"What hopeless times we live in."

That is the attitude that allows those who are ruining lives in order to consolidate their power to be successful Jkilgore. This country needs fighters, not quitters.

Jeff Kilgore 8 years, 3 months ago

First of all, the situation is hopeless and it will take a revolution, but not a Tea Party revolution, a real revolution, one in which Sarah the Witless is not paid stupid money for stupid words. I want to follow a real leader, not June Cleaver.

Rooster, how can you forget the loser President Bush? You remember, the guy with his head so far up the highest 1% that he couldn't see or care that he was ruining the middle class. How can you fight the stupid wars we've fought while dropping the tax rate? Do you live that way at your house, you know, lose income and then spend like there's no tomorrow? Well, that tomorrow has arrived. It's 2010, and there isn't a politician in the world who could pull us out of this hole.

It took 10 years and a world war to lift us out of the '30s depression. Why should this take any less time? Citizens blame Bush for a reason. His idiotic presidency has been and continues to be a curse to this country. His mid-teens approval rating was as low as it could possibly be because the remaining 15% would follow him off of a cliff--their support is blind.

While Obama hasn't been able to establish ObamaCare, what do you say to half the country whose medical insurance is cancelled on them when they're terminal? That's right 50% find their insurance close out on them in their greatest time of need. Now, sit down and try to figure out some way to blame Obama, but he at least he shows some concern for the shrinking middle class, unlike Bush the Spending Sissy.

Richard Heckler 8 years, 3 months ago

Wall Street is a dangerous place for investment.

Larry Summers,Alan Greenspan,Robert Ruben and Timothy Geitner all were warned about the potential and did nothing to protect investors and/or real estate. Consequently 8 million or more lost jobs,millions of homes are on the repo list and the economy has gone to hell.

Lots of members of congress were at fault. Phil Gramm was among those being stupid.

It was noted that probably 90% of congress had no idea what derivatives are or were.

The Warning Feb. 16, 2010

Long before the economic meltdown, one woman tried to warn about the threat to the financial system...


Fred Whitehead Jr. 8 years, 3 months ago

jkilgore, you DA MAN!!!!!! I have not seen so many on -target descriptions of moose lady in this forum before. I am completely flulmmoxed that so many seemingly intelligent Americans think that this shiny centerfold wannabe has even the most distant shred of capability as to seek the highest office in the most powerful country in the world. It is like the book "1984" (yes I am old enough to remember when that was written long before that year ever approached) unbelieveable (back then) political intrigue comming to be. Of course I credit most of this insanity to idiots like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter who have trumped the soap opera crowd with their hyperbole and rabble-rousing. P.T. Barnum once said "No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public." Moderm day hucksters of sleeze are proving the old showman correct. And the political process is mired down int the dross and sleeze of these idols of the "great unwashed".

Flap Doodle 8 years, 3 months ago

Other thoughts about Dear Leader: "...Barry Soetoro suffered through a traumatic childhood. He didn’t get the stable, nurturing, loving parents he needed. But lots of people overcome childhood trauma and live healthy happy lives. What we need to be concerned about is Obama’s lack of insight into his own issues. In Dreams, he falls into the typical pattern of idealizing his absent parents rather than confronting the reality of who they were and how they treated him. At no point does Obama acknowledge that his childhood caused him any problems instead he projects his rage onto white people. Every bad break, including his parents’ divorce was caused by “racism”. This is not a man in touch with external reality. The rage is certainly justified, he was gypped out of a normal, stable childhood. We can all feel angry and sad for what little Barry Soetoro endured. But we cannot ignore how much distance Obama has from reality. He could have called Dreams from My Father a work of fiction. But that would require that he knew it was fiction. The truth about No Drama Obama is that his early life was perpetual drama which did plenty of damage. What is most disturbing is his failure to deal with it. People do recover from early trauma and abuse but only if they acknowledge it and allow themselves to experience the feelings that they had to block when they were too little to manage them. Eventually the experiences have to be integrated into the adult personality and not infrequently abuse survivors benefit from professional support. The current leader of the free world is not in touch with reality. The toady press gleefully accepts his fabrications and denials. And mental health professionals have shown a remarkable lack of curiosity about the mental health of the President of the United States." http://www.canadafreepress.com/index.php/article/8707

jaywalker 8 years, 3 months ago

Shribmann's the man. Never miss his columns. Once again he's spot on.

lindseydoyle 8 years, 3 months ago

Before we go blaming everything on government and politics we should look at our mainstream media. They do not tell us the truth and they do not tell us what we need to know. If you look at legitimate news sources such as the foreign press it is obvious how much is being left out. The msm no longer thinks it is their concern to inform us but rather that it is theirs to herd us like cattle.

yourworstnightmare 8 years, 3 months ago

Most American people are greedy, venal, and hypocritical.They want to have their cake and eat it too. They want good government and public services but don't want to pay taxes. They want to blame the country's problems on everyone but themselves. It's the liberal's/conservative's fault that I spent beyond my means and bought a house I knew I couldn't afford. Not my own greedy, venal, self's fault.

This is the ultimate reason why Populism as a political movement and strategy also has failed and will so again. It is based on complaint, selfishness, and childishness. Right now, the right and the GOP are dominated by populists.

Eventually, the educated, professional, moderate leaders (the elites) on the right and the left will step forward and give the childish populists a time-out and do the business of the country.

jumpin_catfish 8 years, 3 months ago

What was anon1958's point? If you don't agree with the liberals you are hopelessly ignorant . Another liberal building a bridge to nowhere, but wait Obama's hope and change bridge is taking us somewhere......France.

PosseComitatus 8 years, 3 months ago

The demigods of the new world were happy, their plans for the new world order were almost complete. The lords of the new world saw a problem brewing, a threat to the plan of the demigods. The plebs of the new world were becoming restless for it seemed that their lords were betraying them and they couldn't understand why. The plebs, being educated, didn't believe in the demigods.The plebs thought they elected the lords and didn't believe that the demigods picked the lords. The lords knew they had to do something as the demigods were not benevolent rulers, they witnessed first hand the destruction of the villages in the middle east after they rejected the demigods and knew the demigods would do the same to the new world. There was a plan devised by the lords of the Pegasus tribe and sold to the demigods to placate the plebs by giving them free health care. The demigods were sold on the plan and gave the gold to influence the masses. The plan was rejected by the plebs as they saw the truth behind the plan and the demigods were mad, the lords must go. The Pegasus tribe begged the demigods to let them try again, for they knew in their hearts it was the only way to save the republic, for if the plebs were to declare their independence from their lords the demigods would lash out again at the masses and destroy their villages by creating a civil war in the new world.

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