opinion | joan vennochi

Creatures in the D.C. fishbowl


Is this any way to run a country?

Watching Washington deal with a self-created fiscal crisis felt like a trip to an exotic zoo or aquarium.

With every click of the remote, strange creatures floated behind glass. While the rest of the nation lounged beneath shedding Christmas trees, America’s elected representatives darted around Capitol Hill like flummoxed flounder. They wore shirts, ties, and grim faces — especially President Obama, whose desire to be elsewhere, as in Hawaii, seeped through the TV screen.


As the deadline of doom approached, lips moved and gurgling sounds came out, to the delight of no one but C-SPAN.

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There was a cliff. It was getting closer, like the coming New Year. The creatures were working hard to keep the country from plunging over the edge. But maybe, they couldn’t stop it. It was hard to tell what was really happening from the people’s side of the TV screen.

In the end, Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell somehow stopped the free-fall. The Senate approved their proposed package, 89-8; the House voted for it, 257-167. For once, House Republicans refrained from doing whatever it takes to sabotage victory.

Obama quickly escaped to warm Hawaiian waters. But before anyone else beyond the Beltway could celebrate that rare achievement known as compromise, the snapping, snarling, and gurgling started up again in Washington.

Liberals were sorry they didn’t arrange for higher taxes on more rich people — except, of course, for those rich people who benefit from the corporate tax breaks that continue as part of the fiscal cliff package. Just don’t touch entitlement programs. That’s a crisis for another day.


Conservatives were furious at themselves for agreeing to raise taxes without demanding spending cuts. They, too, were okay with corporate tax breaks. But somehow, benefits for those layabouts known as the unemployed were still on the books.

Then, Governor Chris Christie erupted over the delay in sending hurricane aid money to New Jersey. Christie and others were especially mad at House Speaker John Boehner. But there was plenty of anger to go around. According to Politico, Boehner was so mad at Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that he hurled an expletive at him when Reid accused him of running a “dictatorship.”

And so it goes. With this fiscal crisis barely resolved, another crisis looms over the debt ceiling. At least we can’t fall over it like a cliff, although the stock market can.

There must be something in the D.C. water that changes the people’s representatives into creepy creatures of the deep.

Or, maybe it’s something we the people do to those we send to Washington. How many voters — Republican or Democrat — prefer votes of conscience or principle to votes along strict ideological lines?


If Washington is broken, it didn’t break on its own. Voters have great power to instill the fear of being fired in those who dare to think about acting for the greater good. The politicians we send there reflect the will of those who elected them. Right now, the country is so divided, only a sliver really wants to find common ground.

A hurricane strikes, and Americans focus on the politics of a Republican governor praising a Democratic president, not on what it takes to help the victims. The election of a president is not a call to unite; it’s an inspiration for half the country to fight his agenda. The massacre of children in an elementary school doesn’t launch a peace movement; it launches a run on guns.

In his ire at the holdup of hurricane relief aid, Christie said, “The American people hate Congress.” According to polling, he’s right. But why such hatred for Congress, if our representatives are only carrying out our wishes? They are only trying to give voters what they say they want, as they flit between Washington and their districts.

When voters complain about what they see in Washington, they should look in the mirror. The strange creatures they watch on TV are reporting to them. The fault lines on the fiscal cliff and every other crisis stretch from Washington to voters in the district back home. The country runs the way the people want it to run.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.