Bob Franken: John, Mitch, Barack and Charlie

  • By Bob Franken
  • Saturday, January 10, 2015 8:46pm
  • Opinion

Surely you didn’t believe these guys, with their promises of bipartisanship and compromise? That’s what we got from President Barack Obama, but particularly from the Republican congressional leaders after an election where Capitol Hill, all the real estate under the dome and the outbuildings, became a GOP fiefdom, facing off against the Democrats’ shrinking territory down the Pennsylvania Avenue no-man’s-land that ends at the White House.

The new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell even offered a rationale for cooperation, telling The Washington Post that his party has something to prove, which is that it’s not a haven for nut cases: “I don’t want the American people to think that if they add a Republican president to a Republican Congress, that’s going to be a scary outcome. I want the American people to be comfortable with the fact that the Republican House and Senate is a responsible, right-of-center, governing majority.”

What’s scary is that he and his cohorts could talk about cooperation with a straight face. At least on the other side of the Hill, in the House of Representatives’ action central, Speaker John Boehner also was waxing eloquent about bipartisanship … sort of: “May the fruits of our labors be ladders our children can use …”

Yes, his metaphors were mixed, but so was the message he and his fellow Republicans delivered with their first actions. Instead of deal-making, they seemed much more interested in embarrassing President Obama. Potshot No. 1 will be legislation that authorizes construction of the Keystone pipeline, which would transport oil extracted from Canada’s extremely dirty tar sands and swoosh it down to ports in Texas.

Obama’s press secretary immediately said that the president would veto the bill if it passed Congress. The problem is that this is a bogus confrontation. As the brilliant columnist Ron Fournier writes in the National Journal: “They’re playing you for fools on both sides of the Keystone XL pipeline debate. Oil lobbyists and conservatives call it a jobs project; they’re wrong. Environmental lobbyists and liberals call it a globe killer; they’re wrong.” In other words, this is a tempest in a pipeline.

But it’s a chance for the R’s and the D’s to stomp on one another and to lay the groundwork for the next presidential campaign. As we should know, 2015 is really about 2016. The problem is that there are plenty of ways this year that our politicians can do us great harm. In mid-March, for instance, that old bugaboo the debt ceiling rears its ugly face like it inevitably does on regular occasion. The country’s borrowing authority again will be running out, and already the extreme rhetoric is flying about, particularly from true believers who insist that it’s better if the United States defaults on its financial obligations than if they move one inch from whatever their grievances are.

Perhaps cooler heads will prevail, but so far all we’ve gotten for assurance is the promise of bipartisan constructive engagement. As we’re seeing, that is an empty promise.

Now, I’d like to depart for a moment and ask for indulgence as I join my fellow aspiring journalists around the word in saying “Je Suis Charlie,” or “I Am Charlie.” We’re expressing our solidarity with Charlie Hebdo, the French satire magazine where more than a dozen people were killed by terrorists presenting themselves as Muslim extremists avenging the publication’s use of cartoons depicting Muhammad in deeply repugnant ways. I’m among those in our craft who try to avoid gratuitous offensive language or depictions, but we cannot, must not, suppress free expression, even that which we hate. If we do, it is only a matter of time before someone takes such exception to those of us who write about politics, and commits violence over that. If we can’t feel secure in presenting ideas, then we’re not free.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.

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