Again in the US Capital, a Cruel Summer, Tense Vibes

Updated: 08/27/2013 12:26 PM KSTP.com By: Maricella Miranda

The March - 50 Years Later
The March - 50 Years Later

There's an old saying that if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.
    
It may be a sign of the times, then, that President Barack Obama this month got a second pooch.
    
Summer, that time when kids cool off at the pool and adults gain fresh perspective on long beach walks, seems to have done nothing but harden the partisan divisions and rancor that permeate Washington.
    
Here's the Washington vibe as summer ends:
    
Obama is complaining that lawmakers can't manage even the ABCs of legislating. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is tracing a line from the anarchists of World War I to tea party supporters in Congress. And Republican legislators are savaging not just the Democrats but some of their own.
    
Politicians of all stripes are pausing this week to call for racial harmony on the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I have a dream speech." But then they'll quickly revert to dividing their attention between the budget battles that have consumed Washington all year and the escalating violence in the Mideast, which Republican critics say the president has mismanaged.
    
Members of Congress will return tanned, rested - and ready to fight.
    
Except, that is, for Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-La., who resigned citing "partisan posturing." (He has seen it from multiple angles, having been a Democrat until switching parties in 2004.)
    
The president last week called on legislators at least to do the basics of passing a budget and paying the government's bills.
    
"This is not that complicated," he insisted.
    
Reid and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, would beg to differ.
    
Reid, whose grumpiness doesn't seem to have eased much over the summer, recently labeled tea party supporters "modern anarchists."
    
"They're vetoing everything," he said during a radio call-in show while home in Nevada. "We have absolute gridlock."
    
Of course, Reid sometimes fuels partisan fires himself. He once called then-President George W. Bush a "loser," then later took it back.
    
The perpetually bronzed Boehner (who started the summer with a better tan than most D.C. types attain by Labor Day) presides over a Republican caucus whose internal divisions are almost as stark as the GOP's differences with Obama.
    
At the speaker's direction, GOP legislators were dispatched to their home districts with marching orders to deliver a unified anti-Washington, blame-the-other-party message that counters the Democrats' charges that it's Republicans who are behind D.C. gridlock.
    
"We should not be judged by how many new laws we create," Boehner declared. "We ought to be judged on how many laws we repeal."
    
But Boehner is on a short leash, with members of his caucus yanking in different directions.
    
More than a third of them - 80 members - sent House GOP leaders a letter urging Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor to "de-fund" the president's health care law, which could trigger a government shutdown this fall.
    
That's something GOP leaders in the House and Senate want to avoid, fearing a political backlash.
    
But plenty of their members have no such hesitation.
    
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is catching fire from a primary election challenger and tea partyers who insist he hasn't been tough enough in trying to overturn the health care law. The tea partyers are running ads classifying McConnell as a domestic fowl, "Gallus gallus domesticus."
    
"The chicken represents a coward," one ad says. "The chicken is also representative of a new breed of Republicans in Washington. They tend to say one thing. ... But when confronted with an opportunity to act, they often run. Far away. Without a sense of direction."
    
If that wasn't enough, McConnell's own campaign manager got caught in a secretly taped conversation, revealed this summer, saying he was "sorta holding my nose" while working for the senator's re-election.
    
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a tea party favorite, also is feeling the heat from the far right.
    
Rubio, the subject of speculation about a 2016 run for president, emerged earlier in the year as a leading voice in the Senate's bipartisan Gang of Eight pushing for an overhaul of U.S. immigration laws. But after helping steer the legislation through the Senate, he caught grief from party conservatives.
    
Now he seems to have forgotten how to even spell the word "immigration."
    
Amid all the finger-pointing and blame-casting, there are small spots of common ground.
    
Everybody agrees the new baby panda born at the National Zoo is cute. Ditto for Obama's new dog, Sunny.
    
And a go-to summer beach read among Democrats and Republicans alike was Mark Leibovich's "This Town," a dissection of the ambition, hypocrisy and greed that are rife in the city.
    
It comes with this warning on the book jacket: "'This Town' does not contain an index. Those players wishing to know how they came out will need to read the book."
    
Spoiler alert: Nobody comes out looking good.   
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