Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid prefers safeguarding a talking point over helping kids with cancer. He said as much to a reporter, calling her reckless and irresponsible for even bringing that matter up. The online AtlanticWire fumbled to the rescue, giving the exchange more context, but without success. Reid said it.
It's part of the Democrats' own recklessness and irresponsibility in responding to Republican stupidities -- yes, stupidities -- and I am not leaving out the leader of the country on the recklessness side.
How does President Barack Obama respond to a crisis? Lead? Negotiate? Make things happen the way other presidents have made things happen? No. He hits the campaign trail. It's the only thing he does well.
Twice, this very bright, very charming, very articulate man has won a national election convincingly when varied circumstances weighed against him. He can absolutely gin people up and get them cheering for him, especially when using his favorite tactic of calling Republicans names while he talks as if common sense shows him perfectly right. His backers call him moderate and pragmatic, but he is unbelievably ideological, seeing rescue from any and all evils through big, big, ever bigger government, and the most divisive president of my lifetime.
When he ought to be sitting down with the other side, trying to find common ground, exploring possibilities that achieve at least some little something while making everyone look like winners, he kicks below the belt. He denies it. But this is the age of Internet videos, and anytime you like you can catch the speeches. More than that, you can locate verbatim, written quotes in which he said things as a senator not so different from what the Republicans are saying now.
''The fact that we are here today to debate raising the debt limit is a sign of leadership failure," he said in 2006 before voting against raising it.
Not raising the debt limit and risking a default is a threat by Republicans controlling the House that now looms as Crisis No. 2. Crisis No. 1 has been the Republicans saying they will fund all of government except "Obamacare," as the health-care reform law is popularly known, and Democrats saying they will fund none of the government if Obamacare is not funded. The two crises are melding into one as House Speaker John Boehner seeks compromise with Obama.
Let's first note that much of the government has not shut down and that some of the actual shutdowns were unnecessary except as a way for the executive branch to make things seem as awful as possible to score political points. It does not follow that Republicans should have played a game that steps outside of reasonable democratic procedure, fosters bad if sometimes unfair publicity and jeopardizes a chance to expand their power in the next election. But their cause is by almost any measure the right one.
Our public debt is a matter of egregious excess. It threatens calamity and at the least could vastly limit the opportunities of future generations that will have to pay it off. The biggest factor is entitlements -- mainly Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security -- that legally oblige the government to pay out trillions of dollars beyond the reach of revenues. The only reasonable answer is to restructure entitlements in ways that bring no terrible hurt to anyone. But every time this is tried, demagogues make it sound as if suffering is in the offing. The Democrats in 2010 did something worse: They created another entitlement: Obamacare.
Republicans need to back up. The Obama of 2013 needs to shake hands with the Obama of 2006 and then quit playing the amateur. And Reid? He needs to mature into something other than a national embarrassment.
His recent outburst came after Democrats said the shutdown was hurting some cancer patients and Republicans offered to fund the cancer program immediately. Reid said nothing doing. The AtlanticWire said he was talking about helping some and not others, but he was also clearly turning down a chance to help the kids with cancer.
(Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado. Email SpeaktoJay@aol.com. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.shns.com.)