Tag Archives: Washington

Washington is NOT BROKEN

Old EbbittThree characters  from my novel Spin Doctor, Bob, Jack and Evan met it the backroom bar at the Old Ebbitt earlier today. The TV was tuned to the Sunday morning shows, Meet the Press, to be exact:

“…Washington is broken…”

Evan shook his head. “ This is so wrong.”

Bob put down his glass. “What are you talking about? Did they run out of bar snacks?”

Evan nodded at the TV. “No. Washington is broken. Didn’t you hear?”

“Bull…” Bob stopped himself, looked around and went on in a softer voice: “Washington is not broken. Washington is working perfectly.”

Jack leaned in. “Um. Bob. Have you been out of town? The Sequester? Hello, hello? Earth to Bob.”

Bob took a sip. “Funny. Yes, I know.” He drained the glass and waved to the bartender. “What amazes me is that nobody has read the damn Constitution. Nobody has read James Madison. Washington isn’t supposed to make fast laws. Not supposed to make policy like cars coming off the assembly line …”

Jack and Evan looked at each other. Jack lifted his beer, tasted it and eyed Bob. “Come on. We aren’t supposed to have gridlock.”

“Oh really? Why do you think we have gridlock? You know, you guys scare me sometimes. We have all these newbies that come to Washington, but you two live here. You are supposed to be pros.”

Evan and Jack stared at him in silence.

“Let me explain to you. We have the President. He thinks he has a mandate. He believes in whatever he is saying and is trying to get his way. He’s gone in three and a half years, with a little time at the end, maybe one to two years where his power will leak out like Huck Finn’s bag of cornmeal with a hole in it.’

The bartender slid a glass in front of him, he sipped, and went on: “So then, you have the House. It turns out they just got elected t00. Every one of them, in each little Podunk district. And guess what? They are already running for reelection. They don’t have time to make friends or eat lunch. The new ones are trying to learn while looking like they know everything, when they don’t actually know the difference between GSA and GAO. They don’t know who they can trust so they trust nobody. “

Another sip. Bob nodded at Evan. “And then there’s the Senate. They are there six years, so they get to know each other. Some of them even have friends who in the other party.”

Evan straightened up and faked a yawn. “Bob, thanks for the civics lesson but what the hell does this have to do with anything? How does that have to do with the Sequester?”

“Okay, don’t get me wrong, I know the Sequester sucks as a law. But it is where we are. There is no consensus. It is the job of the House to reflect their constituency and to throw themselves in front of a policy they think their folks will hate—raising taxes. The President’s job is to push his agenda. He’s doing that. And the Senate, they are supposed to be reflective and look at the big picture, the precedents, the long term effect. Most of them have been there a few years, so they should know a little history, know how things work. And if something is especially bad, they have the filibuster.”

Jack leaned in: “That’s nice Bob. You are basically saying you think gridlock is okay.”

“No I’m saying there is gridlock because there is no consensus. Nothing wrong with the system. Remember, the alternative to gridlock is to just go along with everything.”

Evan shook his head again. “What about national security? If we can’t get this resolved, I mean, I think we could have a major problem there.”

“So do I. But that isn’t because Washington is broken. It’s because of policy failures. It’s because of inept governing. There is no law we can pass that will protect against bad policy.”

“What’s the answer then,Bob?How is it going to turn out?”

“The polls tell the President he has support. Congress hears from folks back home that they better not capitulate. When those two facts change, either the President’s poll numbers or  the situation in various districts, we will get some motion. Is the economy getting better? Will the cuts really hurt? Will Obama lose credibility by claiming he has to beach aircraft carriers? Will the six Democratic Senators in Romney states who are running  in ’14 feel the love from their state? .  Hard to say.  Meanwhile, let’s get another drink.”

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Filed under Spin Doctor, White House

Richard Ben Cramer, Rest in Peace

Just heard the very sad news this morning that Richard Ben Cramer has passed away. He was the author of one of the best books about politics, What It Takes: The Way to the White House. I don’t really know the particulars of his life. The news said he had lung cancer. As a writer, I suspect he would prefer we focus on his writing, his legacy.

His legacy is that he wrote a masterpiece on American politics. Really. In a world where superlatives are tossed around like confetti, this work is in fact a masterpiece. It also could be a doorstop, with over 1000 pages in the hardcover, which I acquired shortly after it was published.  When you combine exhaustive research and beautiful writing, you may have a good book.
But Richard Ben Cramer got each of his subjects. Some of them come off better than others, but you never have a sense that he was playing favorites, or that he was unfair.It is so easy to slide into insults and sarcastic comments when referring to politicians. Not that we shouldn’t, but we know, surely, that there is more to it. Not many books focus on this subject without trivializing the subject and the subjects. He was able to plumb their public persona and reach the person–the Human that we know must be inside all politicians.

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Filed under 2012 Election, Biden, campaign tactics, Vice President, White House

The boys are back in town for the lighting of the White House Christmas Tree–NOT!

The glorious celebration of the Christmas tree lighting in Washington always presents a challenge to Jack and Bob: how to find a bar away from the tourists.  The Old Ebbitt might be crowded later on, but right now, they have Grant’s bar all to themselves:

Jack looked concerned: “Bob, where did you go? We were starting to get worried.”

“The weather turned. I got cold and went south.” Bob signaled the bartender to bring another round.

“Are you crazy? You’ve been gone almost a month. You’ve missed so much, you will never catch up. Those lunatics in your association are going to can you if they find out.”

“Relax. I didn’t miss anything. Nothing happened. After the election, they drag the carcasses of the defeated off the battlefield and bury the dead. Then we have a protracted period in which the winners gloat and the losers show remorse, consider mutiny, then begin to eat their young. If you think it amounts to anything, you can exhaust yourself trying to keep up. But this isn’t my first rodeo.”

“So, leave town?” Jack leaned in. “What about all the maneuvering to change jobs? When you can help push someone up the ladder with a well timed phone call or email—make them a friend forever? You pass on that?”  He shook his head. “What did you do down there?”

“Rest. Get in shape.” Bob eyed Jack as he drained the last of his drink. “Listen, I know I missed the hors d’oeuvres. But there is going to be a legislative buffet for the next year or so that will take care of my outstanding bar bill and maybe even put something in my 401k.”

“A buffet? What are you talking about?” Jack picked a peanut out of the snack bowl and ate it.

Evan came into the bar, climbed on a stool and pointed at the Bass Ale tap while Bob was talking. The bartender nodded back.

“…Tax law changes, spending bills. Fiscal cliff hysteria. I’m thinking a Superstorm Sandy Emergency Supplemental Appropriations bill.”

“Wait a second.”  Evan shook his head. “I don’t know where the hell you’ve been, and I know I’ve missed something, but what does Superstorm Sandy have to do with your group?”

“Not a blessed thing.”

Evan frowned. “That’s a legitimate emergency, you know. Those people are really hurting. Even Jack couldn’t spin a connection with your group.”

The bartender placed napkins in front of them and lined up their drinks.

“Of course people are hurting.” Bob scowled back at Evan. “And that means there will be large pockets in the legislation that we can stuff with complicated goodies for the rest of us. Of course, that emergency bill may be months away. Right now, we have this fiscal cliff.” He paused, unable to suppress a smile. “Don’t you love it?”

“Ok. I get it.” Jack nodded. “Tax hikes, spending cuts, all in the form of a convoluted Christmas tree. Lots of goodies. Little provisions we can hang on it. But I don’t exactly see how that can that help that group of criminals you represent.”

“Putting aside that it is really none of your business, let’s say, hypothetically,  we have a little problem with the agency that regulates us. They are somewhat confused on a couple of things and tend to misinterpret—you get the idea.  A sentence or two is all we need. We slip it in the bill, which only a handful of staffers will read–”

Evan put down his beer mid sip. “No way.”

“Yes way.” Bob nodded, smiling broadly now.

“It must be over. Here they come.” He looked over Evan’s head to see shivering, rosy cheeked tourists streaming through the tall brass doors in the front of the Old Ebbitt. “I’ll get the check”

*For more adventures of Jack, Bob and Evan, check out my novel Spin Doctor. Spin Doctor makes an excellent Christmas gift for the political junkie!  Available in paperback and Kindle at Amazon.

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Filed under 2012 Election