Friday, February 26, 2010

Theatre of the Damned

Washington certainly is a bottomless pit when it comes nutty behavior. Politicians dip deep into the well of insanity and never fail to bring home the crazy in gigantic trainloads. It would probably be a little more amusing if they weren't dicking around with billions and trillions of our dollars and basically screwing with the future of the entire planet and every living creature on it. Things have been getting a little tedious lately with all the sex scandals, such as South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford and disgraced Presidential candidate John Edwards, among many others. Let's face it - hearing about old white guys getting their swerve on and acting like hormone-crazed frat boys rates pretty high on the "ick" scale. I'm an old white guy and I think it's pretty unsavory. But occasionally the denizens of Capitol Hill outdo themselves when it comes to massive silliness and a true spectacle emerges for our entertainment and edification.

That's what happened at the Health Care Summit held yesterday in DC. President Obama got together with a roomful of Democrats and Republicans, ostensibly for a come-to-Jesus meeting where they would thrash out the different philosophies that have been colliding recently and preventing any real progress in fixing our ailing health care system. The Republicans have been complaining that they've been shut out of the whole process and Obama said, you want to come to the table to talk? - fine, we'll do just that. But instead of hammering out some kind of compromise that both sides would be able to support, however unenthusiastically, what we got were both sides digging in their heels and preening and posturing for the camera, and saying precious little of any use.

The live television coverage let us sit in on this confab, which truly did look like the staff meeting from hell. On one end we had the unnaturally orange Representative John Boehner, or John Boner as I like to call him, pontificating and blustering in true Congressional fashion while saying absolutely nothing. On the other side we had Senate majority leader Harry Reid, who looks like he should be managing an H&R Block office in Akron, getting ready to work on someone's taxes. In the middle was Obama, uncomfortable with his role as ringmaster in this hellish Cirque du Batshit. Next to him was Vice President Joe Biden, looking and sounding surprisingly cogent and on the ball. Joe Biden looks like your uncle who always seemed to have had a little too much to drink even at 8 in the morning, and who would laugh at his own jokes and screw up everything no matter how simple. When Biden appears to be the voice of reason and sensibility in any gathering, you know things are on the verge of heading south in a big way.

But there were a couple of fun things to watch in this whole seven-hour grindfest. One was Obama sniping with his former Presidential rival John McCain. Obama had to tell McCain that the "campaign was over" and he should drop his tired blathering. McCain cackled in his usual cringe-inducing, pseudo-pedophile way and said that was something he was "reminded of every day." I bet he is. Why anyone gives this silly old man any airtime at all is beyond me. He looks like a character from The Muppet Show that was created to be an understudy for Statler and Waldorf, the two old hecklers in the balcony, but was discarded because it was too creepy.

But the most amazing thing was a brilliant segment on yesterday's "Hardball with Chris Matthews" show. They put together little snippets of the speeches the Republicans gave at the summit, and it clearly and hilariously showed them repeatedly using the exact same words and language. With robotic consistency that would make the Cylons from Battlestar Galactica jealous, they shamelessly used the same phrases over and over again, which consisted of "start over," "clean sheet of paper," and "step back." It was pretty eye-opening to see how thoroughly rehearsed and coached the Republicans were. It's like they had been drilled to within an inch of their lives like third-graders learning math tables and were told, probably by Darth Cheney, that if they strayed one iota from the party line they would dissolve into a messy puddle of goo like the Nazi Ark-snatchers at the end of "Raiders of the Lost Ark." It was plainly obvious that they weren't saying what they truly felt and thought, but were slavishly parroting what their puppet masters told them to say. In a time and place where we really needed the participants to be actively engaged in finding a solution to possibly the biggest crisis we have to face today, what we got was the same-old-same-old, much to no one's surprise.

And President Obama still does not get it. For some reason he still clings, Don Quixote-like, to his dream of bipartisanship even though it's been made painfully clear over and over again that the Republicans have no intention at all of cooperating. They only want Obama and the Democrats to fail, no matter how much it would cost the country. Like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, a bipartisan agreement is both irresistible and unattainable for Obama. The Republicans have always said that it's their way or the highway, but Obama still tries to hold out hope that they'll come on board. Now the Republicans are spitting mad that the Democrats will push the health care overhaul through using the process of reconciliation, which is a way of combining the Senate and House health care bills and only requires a simple 51-vote majority, instead of the inconvenient 60-vote supermajority. When Republican Lamar Alexander tried to do a pre-emptive strike and chastised the Democrats for threatening to use reconciliation, Harry Reid in an amazingly righteous show of cojones told the Repubs to STFU because since the 1980s, reconciliation has been used more than 20 times mostly by Republicans, and if it was good enough for Republicans in the past it's good enough for Democrats now.

Well, the show is over and the Health Care Summit of 2010 is history. Comedic history, but history nonetheless. What Obama said was absolutely true, and that is the American people do not need another year of pointless, mind-numbing debate, which is what it would take to come up with another health care bill from scratch, as the Republicans want. We simply can't afford to keep the status-quo; health care has to be fixed and even the stripped-down, neutered bill we have now is better than nothing. We can only hope the Democrats can find a way to get this done, since the Republicans will not lift a finger to help and will in fact obstruct at every opportunity. They are truly the "Party of No," as in No Brains, No Help, and No Morals.

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