American Deadline Politics, Supercommittees, and Channeling Teddy


They’ve become an American way of life.  We live deadline to deadline, prioritizing and tackling our daily tasks by choosing which 2×4 we don’t want to hit us in the face at this particular moment.  We dash, not from project to project or goal to goal, but from deadline to deadline, clutching cups of our favorite sugar-infused caffeine fix.   With whipped cream on top.  And we always get the lids so we don’t spill when we have to duck because we missed a deadline that we decided wasn’t a “real” one.

Hold onto your coffee and get ready to duck, America.  As usual, Congress is taking American trends to new heights of parody.

Remember that Wednesday night deadline?  Remember November 23, when the bi-partisan Supercommittee for Deficit Reduction is supposed to agree on a way to cut $1.2 trillion from the federal deficit or punitive automatic spending cuts would kick in?  Well, apparently, the committee has all gone out for coffee.

With lids.  And those little sleeve thingys that are supposed to keep your fingers from getting burned.

Last week, it seemed that the committee was aiming for a last-minute solution, in the grand tradition of American Deadline Politics.  Facing the looming Wednesday deadline, the co-chair of the Supercomittee, Rep. Jeb Hensarling, made a momentous announcement last Friday to reassure the American people:  the special Congressional committee was actually going to — brace yourselves — work through the weekend.

But last night it became clear that at least 6 out of the 12 committee members didn’t meet anywhere but in the green rooms of various broadcast shows, already in damage-control mode, clutching their lidded coffees and trying desperately to put their particular spin on the committee’s absolute failure.   They were all talking about their efforts in the past tense, folks.  Three days before the deadline.

It’s un-American.

Truth is, they apparently wanted a full week’s vacation for the Thanksgiving holidays like every other Congressperson.  No, really.  I’m not kidding.  Could I make up stuff like this?  According to this morning’s Washington Post, our nation’s capitol is almost empty of politicians, and “legislative reaction to the committee’s failure will not come until early next month.”

They all left town.  Before the deadline.  I say, let’s give them all a real vacation.  A permanent one.  At least it would cut something out of the Federal budget.

What happened?  Back in August, politicians had a commitment to meeting deadlines, honoring American tradition.  Back in August, American Deadline Politics had begun to resemble my students’ gleeful management of online assignment submission:

“I turned mine in at 11:48!”
“Gotcha!  Mine is 11:52.30.”
“No way!  You l-o-s-e-r-s!  11:58 and 45 seconds!  Woot!  Woot!  Woot!

Remember how triumphant Congress and the President were back in the summer, when at the last possible moment, they gleefully and proudly came up with a compromise to keep the Federal government from shutting down?  And then they were surprised when everyone else was shaking their heads and lowering our credit rating?  That is American Deadline Politics.  I’m telling you.  At least my students usually turn in strong and provocative work, even when their coffee cups have lids.

Honestly, though, the political and economic fiascoes of the past year make me shockingly nostalgic for the vision of America as perpetrated by one of our current favorite honorary Americans, the irascible Dr. House, before he was Dr. House, back in 1992 when he was a Brit.

We don’t care whose ass we kick.  If we’re ever all alone,

We just stand in front of a mirror and try to kick our own.
You can move your ass, haul your ass, and bustin’ ass is fine
And there ain’t a better place to put your ass than on the line . . . .

The one colloquialism he missed, surprisingly, was “covering your ass.”  A real  American would never have missed that one.  Seriously, though, if I put a PayPal link right here, will you all chip in to help buy these folks on the Debt Supercommittee a good mirror?  The ones they own must be the fun-house type.

Truly, it all makes me long for one of our most famous ass-kicking Presidents, for all his flaws.  And he had many . . .

Okay, so he could be downright terrifying at times.  Not to mention morally reprehensible.  But occasionally, Teddy hit it right on the button.

Remember in 1902, during the United Mine Workers strike?  The miners were looking for a reduction of the work day from 10 hours to 9, a wage increase, recognition of the Union, and a week off at Thanksgiving.

No, wait.  That last one is our current Congress and the Supercommittee.  Strike that part.

Anyway, the mine owners refused to even talk to the union representatives.  Roosevelt decided it was time to bring out his infamous “big stick” philosophy.  He invited them all, both sides, to the White House for a “chat.”  Sort of like when President Obama invited police sergeant James Crowley and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. to the White House for some beer.  But Teddy’s style was different.

Roosevelt met with them indoors, for one thing — he put them all in a room on one of the upper floors and invited them cordially to sit.  Then he ostentatiously locked the only door, leaned his back against it, and let them know that no one was leaving the room through that exit before they reached an agreement.  Then he looked meaningfully at the expansive window.

The conversation was, well, understandably tense.  One mine owner in particular was staunchly uncompromising, refusing categorically to consider the other side’s position, sanctimoniously and self-righteously rejecting any budget cuts, tax hikes, program cuts, or elimination of tax breaks.

No, wait.  That’s our Supercommittee again.

All right, so — as the story goes, the mine owner refused to listen.  He threatened to simply fire all striking workers, their relatives, friends, and in-laws, refusing to hire anyone who could even properly pronounce the word “union.”   Teddy didn’t offer him a beer.  And he certainly didn’t offer to send out for coffee with lids or suggest that they all take a week’s vacation.  He offered instead, in a quiet voice that somehow filled the room,  to “chuck” the intransigent mine owner out the window and initiate a government takeover of his mines.  When the others, owners and Union men alike, jumped up in a panic and loudly questioned the constitutionality of such a move, Roosevelt grabbed the man forcibly by the shoulders and roared into his face:  ‘To hell with the Constitution when the people want coal!’”

There was only a short pause before both sides came to a remarkably amicable agreement–one of those agreements that pleased no one completely.  Well, okay, so it pissed everyone off, but it got the job done.   And they all got to leave by the door.

Are you listening, Mr. President?  Am I the only one appalled that a week’s vacation is more important than giving the American people something to actually be thankful for?   The only one appalled that this particular Congress has spent less time in session than almost all of its predecessors?

Maybe they’ll surprise us all.  Maybe they’ll be so embarrassed by all the press coverage of how they’re spending their time talking about how to spin their defeat rather finding a solution — so embarrassed by all the press coverage of how assiduously they’re trying to cover their respective asses rather than tackling the agenda — that they’ll actually turn to the task at hand and do their job.

You can’t see, but I almost managed to say that with a straight face.

What we really need is a locked door, a high window, and a leader who’s willing to get his balls out of the sand and channel his inner Teddy.

Until then, America, hold on to your coffee.

©Sharon D. McCoy, 21 November 2011

3 responses

  1. Amen.

  2. Erin Galvin-McCoy | Reply

    “We dash, not from project to project or goal to goal, but from deadline to deadline, clutching cups of our favorite sugar-infused caffeine fix. With whipped cream on top. And we always get the lids so we don’t spill when we have to duck because we missed a deadline that we decided wasn’t a “real” one.”
    I didn’t happen to inspire that particular line, did I?
    But my suspicions aside, every word rings true and hi-freaking-larious. This is going on Facebook later tonight. :)

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