June 25, 2018
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Polarizing callifudges of politics

By Kent Ward

A newspaper comic strip and my desk calendar featuring forgotten English words and terms may express the sentiments of many Americans following a congressional supercommittee’s colossal failure to reach a deficit-reduction accord, despite 14 weeks of intense and mostly secret deliberations that ended Monday.

In Jeff MacNelly’s “Shoe” strip in Thursday’s paper, the young Schuyler sits at his school desk and ponders a physics test question: “What creates polarization?” With a knowing smirk on his face, he scribbles his answer: “Mixing Democrats and Republicans.”

In checking my desk calendar of forgotten English words and terms, compiled by Jeffrey Kacirk and published by Pomegranate Communications of Petaluma, Calif., I find that the word for Nov. 26 is “callifudge,” which in the late 19th century allegedly meant “a trick; a hoax; a swindle.” And what a great word it is to describe the matter at hand.

Mix six stubborn Republicans with an equal number of strongly opinionated alpha male and female Democrats, add a dollop of partisan pre-election year politics, stir with a passion born of conviction and you have the recipe for a polarization that will leave the electorate feeling that an elaborate callifudge — a hornswoggling of epic proportions, a bamboozlement — has been perpetrated upon the population by the people entrusted with representing the public interest in Washington.

It has been argued that the day it was created by Congress, the supercommittee by its very makeup was designed to fail. The panel was born deadlocked on major tax and spending issues that must be resolved if the mind-boggling national debt is to be turned around, and it died deadlocked. After more than three months of talks the two parties remained entangled in head-butting mode like two Maine bull moose defending their harem in rutting season. Intransigence appeared to have fetched up against recalcitrance, each party blaming the other for the sorry turn of events. Welcome to the hardball politics of divided government.

“Leaders apparently calculated that the risk of failure was not as damaging as agreeing to a deficit reduction plan that would require serious compromise heading toward the 2012 election,” The Associated Press reported. “With congressional approval ratings at all-time lows, even the threat of a further erosion of public opinion was not enough to push leaders to compromise.”

Republicans refused to substantially raise taxes, and wanted to cut federal deficits by at least the targeted $1.2 trillion dollars largely by reducing spending on Medicare and other domestic entitlement programs. Democrats demanded a more equal balance of new taxes and spending cuts — a level of taxation the GOP could not accept, the AP reported.

The supercommittee flameout could not have come as any great surprise to anyone who has paid even scant attention to financial issues that dominate Washington discourse. The issue apparently will now be dumped on voters for resolution in the 2012 presidential election next November. The GOP will just have to bide its time until then, letting the people decide the matter through the candidates they choose to represent them, a Republican strategist suggested at midweek.

Republicans, who control the House of Representatives, will ride the deficit issue hard, hoping to retain their House majority next November while also winning a majority in the Senate, presently controlled by Democrats. As well, they believe they have a realistic chance of defeating President Barack Obama. Should they make such gains, their views on the way to handle the debt crisis presumably would subsequently prevail.

Democrats look to prevent such a scenario and make gains of their own by portraying Republicans as seeking to gut Medicare while catering to the richest 1 percent of Americans by refusing to ask it to share more of the tax burden at a time when debt and deficits are overwhelming. Though the public appears to be fed up with both parties and their inability to compromise, the parties apparently see stubbornness as a winning strategy.

But it’s a long time until the dawning of November 2012. Who can say what might happen between now and then to thwart the best-laid plans of calculating politicians? If the 2012 election should result in the status quo of a divided and seemingly dysfunctional Congress and a second term for President Obama, what then? More supercommittees indecisively ducking the tax and spending issue before throwing it back to voters yet again?

Talk about your monumental callifudge.

BDN columnist Kent Ward lives in Limestone. His e-mail address is maineolddawg@gmail.com.

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