In 2008, a nation frustrated with the bickering and gridlock in Washington, D.C. found the rhetoric of candidate Obama quite musical. Barack Obama waxed poetic about the new day that should come and how he, by sheer force of will, would inject bipartisanship and functionality into a government increasingly acrimonious, polarized, and dysfunctional. Four years later, whatever his reasons are, this house is as broken as Obama inherited it. After the first 2012 presidential debate, surveys showed voters enthusiastically favored Mitt Romney’s talk of professionalism and bipartisanship. Unfortunately, the second debate quickly crushed any such notion that Mr. Romney would be a messiah.
This is because if there was a palpable theme in the second debate, it would be this: Contempt. The contempt both candidates exhibited toward each other. While a good amount of adversarial contempt is almost needed in these sort of things, Tuesday night’s debate in New York bordered on foreplay before an all out brawl. What I found spectacular was former governor Romney’s unapologetic and all-too-eager disrespect for a sitting American Head of State. Somewhere about the 17 minutes mark, Romney in so many words chided the president to go sit down, that he wasn’t done talking. The audience in the room gasped. It was a tone that continued throughout the night.
If the broken government in Washington is to be rebuilt; this, unquestionably, is not the attitude that rebuilds it.
Barack Obama in the first two years of his presidency was unsophisticated to the obscene level of intransigence he would face from the Republican opposition. Or maybe it was that he was overly optimistic. Or maybe he, as of today, is still a man learning the intricate art of deal making and leading among wolves. For even when told in private meetings at the White House by Republican Congressional leaders that they shall not be cooperating with him and are bent on frustrating his presidency, even then, Obama thought he could still navigate the muddled waters of Washington, successfully.
This is why the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, languished in Congress for almost two years and almost suffered a death that would have crippled the young presidency. I remember then, I was one of the pundits who castigated the president on his insistence on working with an uncooperative Republican caucus. The president shortly thereafter abandoned all hopes of bipartisanship and the bill passed strictly along party lines.
In this instance, you could chastise me as partisan. But I am well aware that the polarization and dysfunction which led us here is unsustainable. A nation that must dream big and do big things can’t afford to constantly loop a rope around its neck in some twisted American remix of the Russian roulette. While other nations of the world are not on par with the U.S., it would be dumb to think they are not at the door. Countries like China and Germany are making advances and innovations that will one day threaten the super elite status of the U.S.
As it stands, one of the consequences of this breakdown is that President Obama is set to have fewer lower-court appointments than President Clinton and President W. Bush had at the end of their terms. Therefore, vacancies abound in the judiciary system. Charlie Savage of the New York Times eloquently describes it best: “Even when the White House produced nominees, they faced significant obstacles on the Senate floor. Republicans used procedural rules to delay votes on uncontroversial appeals court nominees and on district court nominees, forcing Democrats to consume hours of precious Senate floor time on confirmation votes for judges of a type that previously would have been quickly handled.”
And this coming January, the nation faces a slew of steep arbitrary spending cuts agreed upon by Democrats and Republicans to force each other into debt-reduction negotiations. Unless a compromise is reached, taxes will go up for all of middle-income Americans, as well as cuts in social programs for the poor.
The tone Mitt Romney visibly struck in this last debate offers not much hope that partisan gridlock will abate in Washington. The approval rating of Congress is at an all-time low. Citizens are looking for an executive who is pragmatic and able to navigate this logjam to get things done. In the current environment, there’s little encouragement Obama can accomplish much if presented with a second term. And, on the other end of the spectrum, there’s no doubt Democrats, who own the Senate, will frustrate every breath of a President Romney.
Unless something drastic happens, neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney have demonstrably shown they can lead this nation beyond the vitriol which threatens to choke it. But, who knows; I have seen miracles happen.