Insight. Antics.

What The Duck?

In Politics on December 22, 2010 at 9:44 pm

What’s going on in Washington? Out of nowhere, our representatives became smooth-operating legislators.

It’s like somebody called in The Wolf from Pulp Fiction to clean up every mess that wasn’t handled in the last two years, and he came through in miraculous time, as always. Obama must have called Congress and said, “You ain’t got no problem. I’m on the motherf#¢%er. Go back in there, chill them senators out and wait for the cavalry which should be coming directly.”

I mean, there’s a reason they don’t call it the cool-duck session. We’re down to the shortest couple days of the year and these guys are suddenly overachievers.

We’ve just seen quite possibly the most substantively productive lame-duck session in over 50 years. Isn’t this supposed to be the most blah two months of the political year? I mean, in 1948 Congress shut that maimed mallard’s quacking down in less than two hours.

Instead, what the president has shown, by persuading his party to rally and negotiating with the opposition, is that politics is indeed the art of the possible.

Today, Obama kicked off the day by signing the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT), after it passed both houses of Congress in the last week. I’m not gonna lie, I was skeptical that Obama, et al. were taking the wrong tactic in not issuing an executive order or touting the October ruling by a US District judge to overturn DADT, but in the end, they stayed the course and earned the W the right way in Congress.

Do you know what this now means? We no longer have to listen to bloviating primary candidates opine on what the military should do about the most fabulous among them! And the SEALS are about to get a lot more jacked, because them gay boys are gym rats!

Moving right along, later in the day, the Senate passed the long-floundering New START nuclear arms treaty with Russia 71-26. Yay for a few less nukes, but still plenty to go around!

Then, finally, after a prolonged campaign by the New York Congressional Delegation, especially “menschy-est member” Chuck Schumer and “apparent hottest member” Kirsten Gillibrand, there was a sliver of justice for 9/11 workers. (FYI, I’ve warmed to Senator Gillibrand since her tone-deaf letter to me earlier this year.) After an egregious delay and absurd stonewalling by Republicans, the Senate reached a deal on the Zadroga bill, authorizing much-needed health care and financial support to ailing 9/11 first responders, almost ten years after the attacks. Funny how after all that obstructionism, they managed to pass it unanimously, eh?

Plus, although it’s not so glitzy, after a long behind-the-scenes back-and-forth, Congress also passed a useful food safety law. As NPR said, “The bipartisan bill would strengthen the FDA’s authority over recalls and beef up inspections of the riskiest foods. But it’s taken a long and torturous path through Congress, which indicates just how hard it is to pass a bill these days.” Possibly expired tartar sauce, here I come!

All of these bills were on the docket, but were scrunched together in the closet (almost literally in the case of DADT) by the Republicans, as they refused to vote on anything until the matter of the Bush tax cuts was addressed. Once Obama was able to come to a dicey compromise on the tax issue, the closet doors burst open and the Democrats realized that they had better pick up the stuff that had fallen out onto the carpet and try to put it cleanly on a shelf before Republicans returned in stronger numbers and left a pile of junk on the living room floor in January. After all, Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell’s already upped the jackass rhetoric by saying, “There’s much for them to be angst-ridden about. If they think it’s bad now, wait till next year.”

It has by no means been a perfect legislative year, but I don’t think such a thing exists. For one, the DREAM Act, intended to “grant undocumented students who were brought into the United States as minors by their parents a path to citizenship through higher education or military service,” wasn’t able to garner enough votes, and is resigned to deal with a more challenging Congress next year. Some are saying this will come back to bite the GOP in the ass down the road.

Then, there’s the most debilitating failure of the last two years: a lack of meaningful climate legislation. As I mentioned right after Election Day, the clock’s ticking. At a certain point, it will be too late to make a dent here. Those extra hot summers, below-normal winters, and amped up blizzards and rainstorms we’re feeling from Europe to California today (maybe God’s just punishing the West?) have stopped feeling coincidental.

And yet, despite those shortcomings, a slew of useful laws have been passed, even if there are those who might wish that each one went a little farther. For the arch-liberals disappointed with these results, all I can do is refer them to John Oliver’s coverage of the inauguration for The Daily Show: “Is it exciting? Yes! Are people setting themselves up for inevitable disappointment? Of course they are! Do they realize that yet? Absolutely not!”

Vodpod videos no longer available.

What are the key takeaways here? I’ve narrowed it down to two: 1) arguing like crazy for 22 months is simply splendid as long as you leave a little time at the end to sweep up and lock the door and 2) politics is about gradualism.

I’m favoring 2) a bit more heavily here. You see, come primary season, each side campaigns on its sweeping changes. But in practice, politics is mostly about incremental steps in the direction of progress. Even the health care law, touted by the right as a huge, damning expansion of government, and taking effect in stages, is not as wildly liberal as many Democrats would like.

The president didn’t want to lose seats in Congress, but the biproduct of that new reality is enabling him to redefine his presidency as a fierce occupant of the middle ground. The accomplishments of this month will help him make that case. He can demonstrate what he delivered and weave it into the narrative he is building for reelection in 2012. In his parting press conference for the year today, Obama said, “One thing I hope people have seen during this lame-duck: I am persistent.” Sho’ nuff, Big O. Sho’ nuff.

So, farewell, 111th Congress, you’ve been a real sonuvabitch. A productive sonuvabitch, but a sonuvabitch nonetheless.

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