Judging by some of the speeches on the Senate floor this week, the expiration of the Patriot Act means that jihadists will be delivering my pizza this weekend. Of course to hear Rand Paul tell it, renewing the Patriot Act will ensure federally empowered boogiemen will be sleeping under my bed. While I am a fan of moderation and am betting the truth lies somewhere in the middle of those extremes, the issue appears to be an important one.
Maybe I watch too much House of Cards but the present debate seems to focus on the sort of legislation the President takes an interest in. Not an academic, “I am sort of curious how this turns out” curiosity but a “pick up the phone, twist the senators’ arms” sort of interest. The White House, however, remained largely silent during the debate. In the end, a bill was passed. The new, improved Patriot Act will be known as the “USA Freedom Act,” a sign that Mitch McConnell may have a hot line to hack Hollywood scribes. The White House broke its silence on the controversy by tweeting that the president would sign the bill. How illuminating.
The Republicans firmly control Congress, a fact not lost on me or the president. But the Democrats controlled Congress during most of Reagan’s tenure and Bill Clinton had to deal with Newt Gingrich. There were times when those presidents got things done. For that matter, President Obama and Senator McConnell are on the same side of the trade fight, so I assume the phone lines are still connected. Still, no expressions of interest from the 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue have been forthcoming.
Truth be told, I am unsure of whether there is a phone call the president could have made that would have had any impact. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, I am going to guess not. My disappointment is that he has stopped trying. The man I enthusiastically voted for six years ago based on moving beyond the divisions of the past has come to accept those divisions as permanent. Often I fall into the camp of “Obama apologist,” which I sometimes think is a synonym for sane person, so I would be remiss if I did not point out the Mitch McConnell’s professed goal in life is to make the president miserable. So the failure of the president to remake Washington does not faze or surprise me.
I was taught though, that you never give up until the buzzer sounds. Given how much he loves basketball, the president undoubtedly received the same lesson. But in a sign of how deep our divisions have grown, our government appears to be functioning on separate and not always parallel tracks. If the GOP wants something and can garner 60 Senate votes, it does so. If the president wants something and the White House counsel says that result can be achieved by executive order, the president issues one. The Supreme Court referees.
Rather than trying to find common ground, any investigation into our gridlock leads to endless recriminations explaining how the other side put us in this position. If only for the sake of high school civics teachers trying to convince their kids that we have a functioning constitutional government I am holding out hope that the 2008 version of Barack Obama will make an appearance or two over the last 18 months of his presidency.