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Smith: When shedding blood is not enough

In a recent commentary on WYPR-FM, I wrote: “It’s all over but — the governing.”

In the aftermath of the Republican sweep, it seemed fair to wonder what governing, if any, might occur in Washington. Many are predicting deadlock in Washington — Congress and the president mutually stymied in spite of the nation’s severe problems.

If Republicans and their tea party brothers “decide that “no” is all they plan to say in the next few months, if they decide that dysfunction is a useful goal of government; if defeating President Obama is their ultimate goal, then we may not see much governing.

I would concede (grudgingly) that “no” is a legitimate course of political action. Political, not governmental. And I don’t see how legislators can commit themselves to voting no all the time.

I wonder how that approach can be thought of as being in the public interest. We know neither party will ever get everything it wants on any piece of legislation. Sometimes — some times — compromise is not possible. But it can’t be all the time.

One of my occasional correspondents replied:

“It’s obviously too hard for you to comment and espouse your vast political knowledge without having your personal feelings on the matter ooze through your words.”

(Actually, it wasn’t a matter of oozing. It was commentary and so labeled.)

Deep disdain

My faithful but unhappy listener continued: “Before you mistake me for some die-hard Republican, know that I am not. I’m a registered Independent. … My disdain for the Republicans flows nearly as deep as for the Democrats in Washington.  Most of our elected officials are too self-serving to see the real reason they were sent to Washington. Hopefully that will change now that most average Americans have finally woken from their political slumber and are paying attention.

“I wish you would take off your rose-colored glasses when you ‘comment’ and try just once to see things with a truly impartial eye. You may actually find it liberating.”

(Actually, my glasses, if colored at all, would be a much darker shade. I would not be alone.)

Paul Krugman, the Nobel laureate in economics and New York Times columnist, wrote this week: “One of our two great political parties has made it clear that it has no interest in making America governable, unless it’s doing the governing.”

He goes on to quote former Senator Alan Simpson, co-chairman of a deficit reduction commission. Simpson gleefully awaits a “blood bath” this spring when the nation’s debt limit must be raised to allow the borrowing needed when the budget isn’t balanced. Without deep spending cuts, he says, there will be blood.

Krugman continued: “The same day Simpson relished the prospect of chaos, Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, appealed for help in confronting mass unemployment. He asked for ‘a fiscal program that combines near-term measures to enhance growth with strong, confidence-inducing steps to reduce longer-term structural deficits.’ My immediate thought was, why not ask for a pony, too?” Not happening, in other words.


Krugman’s been arguing for greater stimulus to get the economy up at running at a pace that will produce jobs. The deficit, while a compelling problem, can wait, he says. If the economy gains momentum, the deficit will begin to take care of itself.

Congress and the president are of course reading the headlines: the “shellacking” meted out to Democrats in the election seems to have made the idea of more stimulus laughable. Hence the Bernanke move, something our actual governing bodies seem unable or unwilling to do.

Did we really vote to work on the deficit even if joblessness might continue at 9.6 percent? Would it be a useful part of governing to discuss the issue?

Of the shellacking-dispensing voters, another listener —a local minister — had this reaction to my thoughts about governing or not:

“I agree with everything you said, but you were way too gentle with the American voter. President Obama and Nancy Pelosi did everything they could have done — short of shedding blood.”

C. Fraser Smith is senior news analyst for WYPR-FM. His column appears Fridays in The Daily Record. His e-mail address is

One comment

  1. During the last two years of the Bush Presidency, the Democrats did everything they could to stymie the president’s agenda.

    Now, during the last two years of the Obama Presidency, the Republicans will do what they can to stymie and reverse the president’s agenda.

    In your view, one of these is wrong and the other is not.

    During the early parts of the Bush Presidency, the Republican majority worked with him and the Democrats did all they could to disrupt. They did not appear to have an interest in governing.

    You expect the reverse to happen now.

    In your view, one of these is wrong and the other is not.

    Is it fair to say that your opinions are based in partisan politics, not a logical and reasoned evaluation of the facts and circumstances?