Americans are mostly an optimistic lot, but as they enter the New Year they have reason to see the glass half empty rather than half full when it comes to the management of their government and its ability to deal with myriad issues the nation’s leaders have been unwilling to tackle in the past 12 months.
The faith in the country’s institutions is approaching an all-time low and even if you normally don’t believe the number 13 is unlucky, you may change your mind before it’s over and nothing has been done to meet the economic challenges, settle the immigration questions, reform the entitlement programs that will bleed us into poverty, make some headway in protecting our young from gun violence, responsibly reducing our spending, safely concluding our debilitating entanglement in Afghanistan, and bringing some peace to the Middle East.
That is just a short list of the needs that neither the White House nor the divided Congress, with its near all-time low approval rating of 18 percent, have been able to meet for reasons that baffle most of us and leave us almost bereft of hope that the future will be much better, that those we have chosen for high office will somehow act like adults instead of squabbling brats. I’m sorry, but that depressing outlook seems clearly justified by the near failure of the system.
The new Congress and the second term chief executive will be sworn into office in the next few weeks in an atmosphere of incivility hardly seen since the Civil War. The political parties seem incapable of reaching détente on much of anything and their CEOs on Capitol Hill and down the avenue to the presidential mansion have displayed a weakness that ranks them among the historic worst. For Pete’s sake, who is in charge?
What a record the last Congress and Barack Obama have left us. The last year saw campaign spending reach a horrific combined total of more than $2 billion for the presidential campaign alone. Measured against an unemployment rate still in the high 7 percentile after 44 months of above 8 percent, deplorable is not too harsh a description.
Under democracy’s “crumbling“ dome on their sprawling campus, the legislature is unable to adopt the smallest measures. No one seems to remember when the Senate last adopted a budget or when a full complement of appropriations bills were passed. Or remedies for the simplest of problems didn’t face a filibuster.
Meanwhile on Pennsylvania Avenue, the president – who spent two years adopting health care reform that most Americans didn’t want, glorying in claims of having saved the American auto industry, finding and eliminating Osama bin Laden, all while ignoring the politically dangerous ground of gun reform and the growth of entitlement programs and dealing with the real culprit of recession, the home mortgage disaster – is making noises like he now wants to truly lead us.
He had better hurry because he has about two years before it will dawn on those who would take his place that he is headed for the barn and has very little clout left. After that, nothing will get done until after the next presidential election when the empty cycle will begin all over again.
So chances appear slim that 2013 will be much better than 2010, 2011 and 2012. The House remains sufficiently Republican to block most things and the Senate, while a tad heavier with Democrats, still has a GOP minority strong enough to require 60 votes, the number needed to shut down a filibuster, on anything beyond a simple housekeeping measure.
The first months of the new Congress will pick up where the last one left off – fighting over the increase in the debt limit and other fiscal cliff challenges. The president pledges to push to limit our children’s exposure to the threat of battlefield weapons in schools and elsewhere at home, and to adopt a coherent and lasting policy on immigration. Interestingly, his predecessor tried unsuccessfully to solve that problem.
We always have been able to muddle through and hopefully history will repeat as it usually does. In the meantime, it could be a painful year.
Email Dan K. Thomasson, former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service, at [email protected]