Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The claws have come out in D.C.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Maybe it's because 2010 is the Chinese year of the tiger and not the year of the ox, the rabbit or some more placid beast but so far this year, it seems everybody here is growling.

Republicans are slagging Republicans, Democrats are retracting and apologizing and clarifying stuff said about other Democrats from the sly to the ridiculous.

The level of public discourse, which had been coasting noisily around the level of a schoolyard girl fight, has been jolted into a whole other realm of belligerency, possibly by the political and territorial brawl set off by the Christmas Day underwear bomber.

As Republican Party chairman Michael Steele warned on Meet the Press yesterday, "The mood of the country now is sour. People are angry, they're frustrated, they're scared."

There may have been more projection than poetry in that observation, coming as it did from the guy who publicly told critics in his own party last week, "If you don't want me in the job, then fire me. But until then, shut up."

Shocked and appalled Republicans had been adding their voices to the vortex of churl over Steele's newly published manifesto, "Right Now: A 12-Step Program for Defeating the Obama Agenda," whose existence came as a total surprise to the party with which he is now locked in a "No, YOU shut up" routine.

For a few days last week, it seemed an actual girl fight over Clark Kent-ish sex symbol and White House Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag would drown out the political girl fight as Orszag's engagement to one Bond girly TV reporter came so soon after the delivery of his "love child" with another Bond girly Greek shipping heiress ex-girlfriend.

Then came the leaked dog ears from the long-awaited 2008 campaign tell-all book Game Change by Time's Mark Halperin and New York magazine's John Heilemann and suddenly Orszag's love life was yesterday's what-now-passes-for-news.

The book's highlights include former president Bill Clinton undercutting Barack Obama to Sen. Ted Kennedy in aid of an endorsement for his wife (Kennedy famously endorsed Obama instead), of Hillary Clinton expressing concern over her husband as a potential problem for her if she took the secretary of state job, and of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid providing an early entry for the head-shaker quote of 2010 with the words "negro dialect." None of which brought any calm to the ruckus.

Maybe the slow but sure spiral into the mud since summer (the slope got truly slippery around the time the town hall bellowing started and now even the tea partiers are arguing with each other) was a predictable action/reaction response to a new president who had campaigned on post-partisan civility and cool inclusiveness.

Perhaps it's some skewed political manifestation of Newton's third law of motion whereby Barack Obama's unifying political movement has been met with an equal and opposite force of belligerence and discord.

The president himself has expressed some anger lately, which seems overdue but maybe that's just because everyone else was already ranting.

Chances are though that action is the only thing that will speak louder than words, especially these days and even when they're his words.


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