Finally, I’ve figured out what “American exceptionalism” is all about. We are exceptionally dysfunctional — at least our federal government is. A recent Gallup Poll revealed that when asked what America’s biggest problem is, the answer was the government. And no wonder. Imagine you’re the leader of a country trying to deal with the United States right now. Any country, like, say Iran, or the Europeans, or Russia, or Israel.
Then, right at the most slippery point in negotiations with an elected U.S. president and his secretary of state haggling over a nuclear Iran, imagine what you’d think if the upper chamber of his country’s legislature (we call it a Congress) suddenly gummed up the delicate works with a heavy-handed letter saying that the Iranians should know that an agreement with the U.S. might not be worth the paper it’s written on, that a new president two years’ hence might go back on the bargain with the “stroke of a pen.” It’s not exactly the way to inspire respect on the world stage.
Naturally, back home in Washington, the most outraged response over the letter signed by 47 senators was that it amounted to treason, or at the very least a felony violation of a law that dates back to the John Adams administration. The move probably was not treason, but it certainly was treacherous and grossly irresponsible, and the Logan Act, which forbids such meddling in world affairs, has never, ever been applied. So what we heard was just astonished blustering.
The GOP in the House and Senate apparently has decided that this president, despite the fact that he has been elected and re-elected, somehow is not the valid chief executive. That could be the only explanation for an opposition party so blatantly stomping on territory it shouldn’t even be approaching, i.e., the president’s responsibility to conduct foreign affairs.
The letter was the brainchild of freshman Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas. He has just fallen off the turnip truck, so he can be forgiven, perhaps, for his amazingly amateurish move, but 46 others from his party signed it, including the various leaders, who should know better.
This comes just a week after the Republicans and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu engineered a treacherous behind-the-back move, where Netanyahu was given a joint session of Congress to trash the administration’s bargaining with Iran.
Quoting former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about the motives behind the hyperpartisan shenanigans: “There appear to be two logical answers. Either these senators were trying to be helpful to the Iranians or harmful to the commander in chief in the midst of high-stakes international diplomacy.” Obviously, a GOP decision has been made to neutralize the nation’s leader, no matter what harm it does to the country.
And you’ll notice my oh-so-clever mention of Hillary Clinton. (We call that a “segue,” and it was a mighty good one, if I say so myself.) The really big story is the explanations for hiding all her emails, official and unofficial, behind a cloak of secrecy given by the woman who wants to be the next president.
Clinton 1 was a nonstop melodrama, fueled by a constant, clumsy attempt to stonewall and keep out of view the various embarrassments flying around Bill and Hillary. Clinton 2 promises more of the same. Her grudging explanation for why she went to astounding lengths to conceal her emails is like a blast from the past: She didn’t want to carry two smartphones. It wasn’t convenient. Not only that, but after she determined what emails she’d turn over the government, she simply decided to get rid of the rest. Deleted more than 30,000. How dumb does she think we are? And the point of all this is a question many have asked for a long time, about whether America is ready for self-government. Maybe not.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.