Congress: Can’t anybody there play this game?

Jimmy Breslin

Jimmy Breslin

One of the best books ever written about baseball was New York newspaper columnist Jimmy Breslin‘s “Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game?”  It chronicled the 1962 season of the hapless New York Mets when the team was considered the worst in baseball history.

Breslin was one of the newspapermen I admired most during my early days as a young reporter and photographer at The Roanoke Times, a daily newspaper in Southwestern Virginia.  I joined the paper at age 17 in 1965, straight out of high school, and had a column there by the time I turned 19.

Nowadays, at 65 and covering local governments, courts and photographing high school sports for Warren Buffet-owned newspapers as well as publishing the political new web site Capitol Hill Blue, I remember reading that book as a teenager.

Breslin, now 83, still lives in New York and his column for the New York Daily News comes and goes nowadays, depending on his whim.  If he were writing a book with the title of “Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game” today, it would probably be about the hapless Congress of the United States.

In 1962, the New York Mets lost 120 out of 160 games. Even so, their record in that horrific year is still better than the record of Congress now or in the recent past.

The recently concluded 16-day government shutdown and the narrowly-avoided default on federal debt was simply the latest debacle of a Congress that can’t function.  It is a body with dysfunctional leadership in the House, meandering direction in the Senate, and gridlock at every turn.

During a decade long sabbatical from journalism, I worked on Capitol Hill from 1981-87, first as a press secretary, later as a Congressional chief of staff.  In those days, we got things done by working together with the other side, compromising when necessary and holding firm on items that we felt best served our legislative goals and served our constituents.

But that ended in 1994, when Newt Gingrich and a uncompromising gang of “our way or the highway” Republicans took control of Congress.   The GOP got there with the so-called “Contract With America,” which promised term limits, an end to non-germane amendments to vital legislation, elimination of “earmark” pork barrel projects and a new transparency on the Hill.

Within 90 days of taking control, the Republicans broke each of those promises and turned Congress into a morass defined by political gridlock.

Things haven’t been the same on the Hill since and the situation gets worse with each term.

Yes, Jimmy Breslin’s book, “Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game” could be written today about the United States Congress.

Another of his books could apply as well.  It was called “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight,” a tale of two inept, warring Mafia families that did anything wrong.

Let’s see.  Two warring groups who can’t do anything right.

Is that the Mafia?  Or is it Congress?

Or is there really any difference?

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