(This is a week old, as usual, delayed to keep the syndicator and paying client newspapers happy)
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FOR RELEASE FRIDAY, FEB. 15, 2013
THE ‘SMARTER GOVERNMENT’ NO-BRAINER
BY BOB FRANKEN
If there was ever proof that what President Barack Obama said was self-evident, all one had to do is look around the House floor during his State of the Union address when he declared that we need a “smarter government.” The speech came just a couple of weeks before we face a huge hit to our economy, a self-inflicted one. Everybody agrees that the sequester must be avoided; nobody has much hope of that happening before the March 1 deadline.
Instead of working away at avoiding that demolition, the different sides are sticking it to each other. On SOU day and the chief executive’s annual assurance that the “State of the Union is strong” (which is less and less true), his leading adversary, which is what John Boehner seems to be, derided Obama in starkly personal terms, telling reporters: “I don’t think he has the guts to do it. He doesn’t have the courage to take on the liberal side of his own party — never has.” That is hardly grown-up language and certainly striking considering that the same speaker who was growling insults spends so much of his time groveling before the extremists in his caucus.
The GOP is so fractured that it requires two members to respond to the president. First Florida Sen. Marco Rubio assured us that he and the Republicans don’t “want to protect the rich.” He was visibly nervous and needed a swig of water. Was he worried we’d have trouble swallowing that?
His tea-party counterpart, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, attacked the president for offering “free stuff,” perhaps channeling Mitt Romney. Paul is one of the zealots who mostly want to dismantle the government. He argues that what we have now is unconstitutional. He might want to read the words of one of the Constitution’s authors, James Madison, who wrote, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” The other part of his equation was: "If angels were to govern man, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”
There is a real shortage of angels right now, so we need to police the worst instincts of the greedy. On the other hand, the federal agencies all too often make a real mess out of nearly everything; ineffective mortgage-relief programs, for example, or the contemptible paralysis in the process of veterans and their families getting their rightful benefits.
If the policymakers were in any way qualified to do their jobs, they would take a hard look at what government should be doing, and eliminate gross redundancies. They would do away with subsidies to the rich and eliminate tax strategies of the wealthy that withhold billions of dollars that are desperately needed.
These people can’t even agree on policies to make our country just a little safer. Even in the wake of the school shootings in Newtown, Conn., and other massacres, it is looking less and less likely that Congress will pass minimal gun control. Forget about a limitation on assault weapons. The chances for that are shredded in a hail of nasty intimidation by the National Rifle Association, with demands that all citizens “keep their Second Amendment rights.” Never mind that even Justice Antonin Scalia, author the misguided Heller decision, said there is “not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever, in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” Even so, don’t expect any variation of an assault-weapons ban to get past this bunch.
In his speech to the members of Congress, President Obama pointed out the obvious, that Americans need to “put the nation’s interests before party.” That sure hasn’t happened. It’s no wonder that a new ABC News-Washington Post poll shows that 56 percent of the respondents have an unfavorable view of our system. Politicians take note: It’s hard to run a nation when the majority of the citizens are disappointed in you.
© 2013 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc