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King Features Syndicate Column

(As usual, the arrangement with the syndicators requires that these columns appear here a week after their newspaper release)


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There are two ways to look at the averted government shutdown: It was another sad display of big-league politics played by little-leaguers, instead of “grown-ups,” to quote President Barack Obama. Or ... actually, that's the only way to look at it.

Never mind Obama's contrived victory lap to the still-open Lincoln Memorial, the president got hosed. House Speaker John Boehner was able to jack up the price of a deal with negotiating tactics that are familiar to any used-car salesperson.

His ploys were hardly sophisticated. They have been around since the first bazaar haggling. Eons later, this bizarre haggling featured some of the same transparent tricks.

Look at how he used his tea party chorus as snarling background music for blatant intimidation. Each and every time he agreed to a figure, he knew he could count on his crazies to provide an excuse for welching on the deal. It was obvious deception, but it worked.

So did the rider artifice, in which the Republicans demanded provisions that would sabotage abortion rights, environmental protection, health care reform and the like. These were all near and dear to Democrats, who were easy marks willing to trade off more money -- nearly $40 billion this year -- to save these straw men. All they could do is whine about it, while trying to look like tough guys by putting out stories about how firm the president was with Boehner behind the scenes, or how the affable Joe Biden chewed him out (Boehner, not the president).


In point of fact, “year” is a misnomer, since we already are more than halfway through the fiscal year. The deadline was LAST Sept. 30. We'll have to go through it again in six months. Between now and then, in about a month, we have a collision over raising the debt ceiling so that America's government can keep borrowing and keep existing in the financial world.

It makes the last-minute theatrics featuring the Dramacrats and Republicons even more galling.

They caused only heartburn for those who work in the federal government. Those combat troops risking their lives in our various wars must find it really hard to swallow the fact that a shutdown would mean they wouldn't get paid on time, which could inflict financial wounds on them and their families.

How about the indignity for those bureaucrats who were told they would be furloughed because they were “nonessential” while those deemed “essential” stayed. What's equally ridiculous is that the problem is caused by decision-makers who probably should be declared nonessential themselves, but cannot be. It's similar to the private sector. Maybe we should give them a special designation, like “Detriments.” What we have here is a huge morale problem. Considering that we all pay for this, the entire country has a morale problem.

Since this is a show that will play again and again, we probably should set it to appropriate music. Did you know that the popular circus theme is called “The Entrance of the Gladiators”? I didn't either till I search-engined it. While the gladiators were flaying away at each other, their leaders were doing a high-wire act, that sooner or later threatens to result in a big fall. No amount of fancy footwork, or even running up the steps of a national monument, can step around our foolish realities. This is simply a preview of coming attractions, another two-ring extravaganza featuring the “Fools on the Hill” and “Mild Thing” Obama. These are gladiators who are demonstrably out of their league, fighting battles with the nation's fortunes that nobody is winning. Maybe a more appropriate opening song would be “Send in the Clowns.”

© 2011 Bob Franken

Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.


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