In this photo taken Monday, Sept. 16, 2013, President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks in the South Court Auditorium on the White House complex, in Washington. Obama, facing a budget showdown with Congress, is pushing his economic agenda to some of the nation’s top corporate executives today while cautioning Republicans not to precipitate a government shutdown or an unprecedented debt default. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Updated: October 26, 2013 6:28AM
Barack Obama looks exhausted these days. He looks about as tired, in other words, as the nation feels.
He knows this. At a speech Saturday, he said that people are always telling him to “hang in there.”
“Don’t worry about me!” Obama said. “I am still fired up ... because I still see the work that needs to be done!”
The audience cheered and applauded his old slogan from 2008 — “Fired up! Ready to go!” — the old fire in the belly, the old Obama.
But by Sunday, he seemed drained again. Speaking at a memorial to those slain in the Navy Yard shooting, he pointed out it was the fifth time in his presidency that he has addressed communities “ripped apart by mass violence.” And his presidency is not even 5 years old.
Though his words were elegantly written and delivered and, I do not doubt, of genuine comfort to the families of the victims, Obama offered no solutions.
“By now,” he said, “it should be clear that the change we need will not come from Washington, even when tragedy strikes Washington. Change will come the only way it ever has come, and that’s from the American people.”
So in the world’s greatest democracy, our national government is so broken that it cannot act to save the lives of its citizens from mass slaughter. And the president admits it.
How sad. How true.
I do not blame the president. I do not blame the nation. Nor will I say “the system” is to blame.
The system is not to blame. The scorpions are to blame.
It is the fable of “The Scorpion and the Frog,” which dates back at least as far as Aesop and has many forms. It goes like this:
A scorpion comes to the edge of a stream and asks a frog to carry him across. “But if you sting me, I will die,” the frog says. The scorpion replies, “But if you died, I would drown.” So the frog begins to take the scorpion across, but in midstream, the scorpion stings the frog.
“Why?” the frog gasps, knowing they now both will drown.
“It is my nature,” the scorpion says.
There are scorpions among us. They sit in Congress, committed not to solving problems but to blocking solutions.
They would take the food out of the mouths of children. They would put the insurance companies back in charge of health care. They would shut the government down, refuse to pay the nation’s bills, destroy the trust that other countries place in us when they buy our bonds. They would do all this rather than give Obama the slimmest of political victories.
Why? It is their nature.
I am not talking about the entire Republican Party. I am talking about a faction of far-right, Tea Party-driven congressmen who do not care who drowns.
They don’t have real alternate plans to help people. They weren’t, they believe, elected to help people. They were elected, they believe, to keep the other side from helping people.
“It’s just they’re not focused on you; they’re focused on politics,” Obama told a group of autoworkers in Liberty, Mo., last week. “They’re focused on trying to mess with me.”
The audience laughed, but Obama was deadly serious. Our government lurches from crisis to crisis. Our nation staggers from brink to brink. And why? To mess with the guy in the Oval Office, that’s why. (And now that you mention it, where was he really born?)
Obama wants Congress to pass a budget. (Fat chance!) He wants it to raise the debt ceiling so our nation can pay its bills. (Ha!) And he wants something else.
“You should expect some compassion; you should expect some compromise,” Obama told the autoworkers. “You should expect the conviction of leaders who wake up and go to work every day not to tear something down but to build something better.” (Oh, stop. You’re killing me. This is just too funny.)
Unlike some, I don’t fear a shutdown of our national government. I fear a shutdown of our national conscience.
Last week, Congress voted to cut $40 billion from the food stamp program over the next 10 years, even though food stamps keep many working people, including military families, from slipping into poverty.
Cutting off food? Really? Is this what our country has come to?
The good news is that this probably never will happen. In the unlikely event the bill were to be passed by the Senate, Obama would veto it.
It is just more games. More politics. More meanness of spirit. More trying to tear down rather than build up.
It is just, sadly, what passes for normal in Washington these days.