With apologies to Garrison Keillor: It has been a difficult week in our hometown, Lake Woe Is Me.
The images of cheering throngs in Denver and in Grant Park seem to be fading rather quickly for President Obama as more and more Americans realize what they should have understood in the first place — pledges sold in a campaign frequently have a very short shelf life.
Take the new president’s promise to restore at least some semblance of bipartisan civility to American politics, to reach out to the opposition and make governing all-inclusive, perhaps for the first time in U.S. history. After just two months in office, Obama has begun to openly blame his predecessor and Republicans generally for the nation’s economic crisis, and his budget strategists are threatening to curtail input from GOP lawmakers to quick start his healthcare and energy initiatives.
The White House is considering the use of a process called "reconciliation" in the Senate that requires only 51 votes for adoption (limited to revenue bills) rather than the 61 it would take to overcome a filibuster. Because the Democrats have 58 votes, Republicans would become irrelevant to the process. Not to be outdone, Republican lawmakers in both the House and Senate have stepped up their own contentions that Obama and the Democrats are using the economic mess to cover their real goal, the adoption of an agenda of liberal proposals that have been rejected for decades.
Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky told reporters recently that his members were willing to meet the president in the middle, but not on the left. He didn’t say whether the Republican far right agrees with that.
At the same time, a growing number of Americans seem not to be buying the president’s "who me?" approach to allegations that he isn’t exactly extending the hand of friendship to his opponents. Obama’s general approval rating has dropped below the 60s where it had been since his inauguration. While it is still high, the decline has caused some observers around here to predict that the honeymoon may be one of the shortest on record.
That analysis appears to have gained currency with the administration’s deer in the headlights reaction to news that AIG managers, flush with $170 billion in taxpayer bailout money so far, doled out $165 million in bonuses to employees on the premise that it was necessary to retain vital personnel to get us out of the mess they got us into in the first place.
That prompted Americans to ask where did they think these people were about to run off to — Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae or Lehman Brothers, the unemployment office or maybe Tahiti? And why not just let them go?
The president and his Treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, scrambled on television to demand our money back despite legal contracts. This apparent political decision effectively pushed Geithner, who already had decided there was no way to stop the bonuses, in front of a bus loaded with enraged members of Congress and citizens seeking retribution and maybe his job.
On Capitol Hill a bipartisan army of lawmakers rushed to adopt special legislation — constitutional or not — that taxed the bonuses out of existence. They also demanded the names of those who received the dough and refused to return it as requested by their chief executive officer, a rather ominous move under the circumstance.
Meanwhile, the Obamas have decided they need some time off from the rigors of all this, especially since Daddy’s frown has become an almost permanent fixture after a little more than 60 days on the job. They will head for Spring Break, first at Camp David over the weekend and then who knows where. This angered much of what’s left of the national press corps as he became the first president in his first year since Grover Cleveland to blow off the Gridiron Club’s annual spring gathering designed to reconcile opposing forces for one night at least.
Well, that’s all the news from Lake Woe Is Me where all the men want to be president; all the women do too, and all the children hope they make it so they can bounce on the White House beds.
(E-mail Dan K. Thomasson, former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service, at thomassondan(at)aol.com.)