(As usual, the deal with the syndicators, for now, means this column appears here a week after its newspaper release)
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FOR RELEASE TUESDAY, JAN. 3, 2012
THE TRAVELING SALESPEOPLE AND THE HOME FOLKS
BY BOB FRANKEN
Every four years, we dust off the Willie Nelson song “On the Road Again,” because presidential campaigns are one big road show. The moment the contrived drama is over in Iowa, the actors and their directors, their tap-dancers, as well as the Greek chorus of reporters, all strike the set and move to New Hampshire. Then it's on to the next one-week stand, talking love and rewriting the lines to fit the local mood.
Each quadrennial (I LOVE using that word), the various states get to enjoy a moment in the cold light of pretend concern about the issues that fester there. The candidates rejigger their kinship message for a week and then move on.
But there are performances that stay in the same theater, in the same district or within the borders of the same state, from beginning to end.
Obviously, each is the war story about a slice of congressional turf. These set pieces ultimately determine which party controls the House and Senate, and which decides the fate of the agenda put forth by the one who ends up in the White House.
As usual for an election year, all 435 representatives will be chosen, and 33 of the 100 senators this time. Both sides of the Capitol are up for grabs. And as we have seen, the ability to harm the nation on either or both can't be overstated. Nor can the contempt the country has for the two bodies. This leap year, our legislative branch has fallen to an disapproval rate of 90 percent or so. When the Obama operatives told reporters that they planned to run against Congress, they were stating the obvious, as in “DUH.”
What will be great fun to watch will be the contortions by the members of Congress as they individually try to untangle from the twisted mess they've helped create. Both halves are ripe for change. The House is currently controlled by the “Tea Party,” formerly called the “Republicans.” The most zealous have large enough numbers that they have created near paralysis. This election serves as another chance to vote on the promise they've made, and kept, which is to blow up the system No one should be surprised by the gridlock -- horrified maybe, but not surprised.
Meanwhile, as usual, in the Senate, obstructionism is a way of life, if you call that “life.” The upper body, as it likes to call itself, is under Democratic control, although “Senate” and “control” make up a bodacious oxymoron. The rules are so mind-numbingly archaic that the majority has little clout. The real power is the ability to block anything and everything. That takes just a minority of the members, sometimes a minority of one. But every two years, many states get to choose one of the two who sleepwalk on their behalf.
Right now, the numbers favor the GOPs, with seven Dems retiring and 16 incumbents trying to protect their seats, or whatever word you want to substitute. The GOPs have just two retiring and eight incumbents seeking re-election. Of course, the presidential prospects and the hopes of each party in the Capitol are intertwined. And the races have one other thing in common: money, lots of it. It is provided by the rich and powerful (pardon the redundancy) to render the concept of government by and for all the people equally almost laughable. But here we are again, looking for change in all the wrong places. In November it will be over, and that's when we rediscover how we're being shortchanged. As Willie Nelson also sings, “Funny How Time Slips Away.” There is a growing worry that the country is starting to slip away, too.
© 2012 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.