The agreement on the shutdown and the debt ceiling is no guarantee that lawmakers and the White House will behave. They are addicted to spectacle and hand-wringing political theater that garners press coverage, while masking inactivity or indecision. Once, such incivility and posturing was more of a bad habit or occasional embellishment, not the norm. Consider that in 1999, a contentious U.S. House actually opted to go on a series of bipartisan retreats to remedy their discord. The press deemed these events "civility retreats," dutifully chronicling the attempts to iron out differences and seek productive protocols.
"At the weekend-long civility retreats in Hershey, Pa., over 200 members of the House of Representatives developed a comprehensive, detailed portrait of what wasn't working on Capitol Hill and what needed to be done to fix it," Mark Gerzon — the mediation consultant who actually designed those retreats — tells Inside the Beltway.
Fragile victories were short-lived, though.
"However, once they returned to Washington, party leaders made sure that nothing changed. They did not want anything to stop them from playing the partisan game the old way," Mr. Gerzon says.
"Up to a point, the blame game can be a winning strategy at election time. The problem is that election time now never ends. It used to be that politicians played by slash-and-burn election rules for a few months before November every other year. Now they play by the those rules all the time. There is almost no governing anymore. It is all electioneering," he says.
"So the incivility, dishonesty, and character attacks that once were a bad habit during campaign season have become a way of life," Mr. Gerzon says.
THE PRICE OF THE POSTURING
"Political leaders on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue need to stop undermining consumer confidence with partisan posturing," points out Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the National Retail Federation, in the uneasy wake of the aforementioned agreement.
"When consumers cut back their spending, it threatens jobs in every industry. If it's bad for retail, it's bad for the economy, and ultimately the biggest losers are American taxpayers."
The agreement offers "breathing room," says Mr. Shay, but no long-term solution. A certain South Carolina Republican agrees.
"There is a process in place for establishing a budget and appropriating dollars each year, and unfortunately that framework has simply been ignored for years now," Sen. Tim Scott says.
"Instead, patchwork, crisis-to-crisis government has taken over, ensuring duplicative and wasteful programs do not receive the scrutiny they deserve. How can we possibly hope to restore some fiscal sanity to our nation when we continue to simply extend every program?"
MOVING RIGHT ALONG
"The ugliness of the GOP schism will probably have a long half-life, as various parties feel the need to point fingers and shout 'I didn't do it.' But if at all possible, I think conservatives and Republicans would be well-served by putting these disagreements behind us, like family fights at a Thanksgiving table that are best forgotten," advises syndicated columnist Jonah Goldberg.
"If this were a very special episode of a 1980s TV show, we could resolve all of this with a simple break-dancing competition. But as that is not a viable option at this juncture; neither is any other emotionally or intellectually satisfying settlement to this argument," he adds.
Mr. Goldberg points out that it is "unknowable" yet if the problems implementing Obamacare and the shutdown will benefit the Republican Party when the 2014 and 2016 elections come calling.
"Even if the shutdown plays a big role, that would be all the more reason for Republicans to find the best and most unifying way to talk about it. Endless internecine screaming about what went wrong is exactly what President Obama wanted out of this," Mr. Goldberg advises. "Why give it to him if it won't produce anything worthwhile? As an intellectual or historical question, I think it's a great thing to debate. As a political touchstone, it's poisonous."
AND FROM OUR FRIENDS OVERSEAS
"While the political factions in Washington tot up their individual wins and losses; the reputation of America once again runs out the certain loser."
— Final assessment on the agreement, from Britain's Daily Telegraph.
"If all else fails ... more duct tape."
— Bumper sticker spotted in Accokeek, Md.
PIERS MORGAN OFF TARGET
From our that's-a-shame desk comes word that CNN host Piers Morgan got his constitutional amendments crossed, telling CBS on Wednesday that he's not bothered "with a family exercising their First Amendment right to defend their families with a handgun at home."
The British personality is no fan of firearms.
"Morgan is out hawking his new book 'Shooting Straight' and yet he has been missing the target consistently. He doesn't even know that it's the Second Amendment, not the First, which affirms and protects the right to keep and bear arms," sighs Alan Gottlieb, founder and executive vice president of the Second Amendment Foundation.
"The First Amendment — and Morgan should know this — protects the right of free speech and the press," he observed. "Maybe Morgan supports the right to talk about guns, but he just doesn't support the right to own one."
Mr. Gottlieb appeared on Mr. Morgan's show on Monday night, incidentally. He notes that, ironically enough, the debate that ensued between guest and host actually brought in a slew of new members and contribution to the Second Amendment Foundation.
"You simply have to love Piers Morgan," he concludes. "Trying to have a rational conversation with him about guns is like filming a recruiting commercial for the gun rights movement."
SWEETEN THE DEAL
The White House routinely hands out little pots of honey from its beehive to select guests. Though it might not go over so well with health-minded first lady Michelle Obama, the White House should consider issuing its own brand of chocolate — just to shore up the nation's economy.
"Chocolate is big business, and Halloween is its biggest holiday. According to a recent survey from the National Confectioners Association, 72 percent of all candy spending this Halloween will be on chocolate. Last year, more than $12.6 billion was spent on chocolate in the United States, 3.8 percent more than the year before," reports Alexander Hess, an analyst for the Wall Street 24/7 blog.
Imagine the sales of a White House confection. That ought to defray some of those Air Force One expenses.
POLL DU JOUR
• 85 percent of Americans are concerned about the health care costs they will face in the future.
• 81 percent have not tried to visit the federal or a state-run health care insurance exchange website.
• 45 percent think the Affordable Care Act should be repealed.
• 41 percent think they will receive worse care under the new health care system.
• 25 percent say health care will be "about the same"; 15 percent say they will get better care under the new system.
• 37 percent say the new health care law should be "protected."
• 33 percent say they have no "savings"; 28 percent say they could last a few months on their savings.
Source: An Economist/YouGov poll of 1,000 U.S. adults conducted Oct. 12 to 14.
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