It is the sin of Republicans, and the shame of Democrats, that as the president who praises Mandela heads for the sun of Hawaii, the least productive and most unpopular Congress in history is skipping town for yet another long vacation, leaving the hungry and jobless behind to endure a cold and bitter Christmas.
There is a war against the jobless in America, and a war against the poor, and there is shame to be shared by both political parties. The president and Democrats should have fought for — not merely talked about — far larger jobs programs. They should have fought for — not weakly surrendered — extending jobless benefits.
Democrats should have pledged to keep the Senate in session and force Republicans to vote against jobless benefits on Christmas Eve if necessary, which would probably have led to a deal.
Once upon a time in America, Democrats like Ted Kennedy joined Republicans like Bob Dole in alliances of decency to help the jobless and poor. It would have been unthinkable in those days — which were not that long ago — to callously let jobless benefits expire and cruelly cut food assistance for hungry children.
Yet that is what happens in America today. The Christmas present from voters to the president and Congress is a favorable rating at an all-time low. The Christmas present from the president and Congress to the hungry and jobless is an empty card that reads “Tough luck.”
If today’s politicians in Washington were producing the holiday classic “It’s A Wonderful Life,” the evil banker Mr. Potter would be invited to closed-door meetings with the president and Hillary Clinton for an admission price of $250,000. George Bailey, the people’s banker, would be homeless and suicidal in Pottersville, a fate that afflicts many Americans today who are not invited to praise themselves on “Meet the Press” or “Face the Nation.”
In our modern rendition of the movie, George Bailey’s younger brother, Harry, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for valor in the Pacific during the Second World War, would be astonished to learn that our heroes in Washington were working in Congress to cut the pensions of our heroes in battle, who wore the uniform to defend the right of odious politicians to be held in wide disrepute by the people of the nation.
These words will not generate thank-you notes from either side of the aisle in Congress or either end of Pennsylvania Avenue. As a Democrat and columnist, I am presumed to offer the ritual denunciation of Republicans and the robotic praise of Democrats even in the face of a bipartisan outrage that can reasonably be compared to the scandalous abuse of migrant workers once described by the brilliant broadcaster Edward R. Murrow as a harvest of shame.
When a Democrat I greatly admire advises Democrats to “embrace the suck,” I respond that Democrats instead should embrace the pope, who champions the hungry, the jobless and the poor.
It is wrong — horribly wrong, tragically wrong, morally wrong — for the president and Congress to leave this town for a long vacation without extending jobless benefits for the long-term jobless and without increasing, not cutting, food for the hungry poor.
President Obama was eloquent at the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, moving at the eternal flame of President Kennedy’s grave on the 50th anniversary of his death, and brilliant in his oratory about how Nelson Mandela defined the values of his life. But if Mandela could spend 27 years of his life suffering in prison for his beliefs, shouldn’t our president have spent 27 hours fighting to provide more food to the hungry and to extend jobless benefits for the long-term jobless?
It is scandalous for the president and Congress to skip town for holiday vacations while leaving the hungry to suffer in silence and leaving the jobless to anguish in pain. They deserve better from their leaders with the real jobless rate above 13 percent and some 50 million Americans suffering in poverty.
There is a war against the jobless, and a war against the poor, in official Washington and in many capitals around the world. Here in Washington, if it is true that Republicans and the right declared these wars with callousness and cruelty, it is equally true that the president and too many Democrats are absent without leave in failing to fight this war on behalf of those who desperately need their support.
What is happening is a shame against both political parties. Few Washington insiders will say this. But I just did.