Washington Week: Perception is Reality (Show)
Around the State
The first TV show segment of the 2012 season was the melodrama that surrounded the payroll tax holiday extension bill. The president re-cast the bill in a new role whereby the “producers” called it a tax break for the “little guy.” He then pushed Congress to pass a year extension of the bill and asked the members to pay the tab from the expenses created by the bill on the backs of the “rich.” These unwilling “rich” participants became the villains in this made-up Jerry Springer moment. The president stood in front of countdown clocks while having press events and convincing the viewership that their 2012 was going to be a disaster all because of the members of Congress.
The next melodrama of the 2012 season was last week’s recess appointment of Richard Cordray to be the head of the consumer financial bureau. This is the new watchdog agency created in the Dodd-Frank financial modernization bill. The president used Article II of the Constitution to recess appoint Cordray while the Senate was in recess. He then directed a moment whereby one of Cordray’s first acts as the head of this consumer agency was to listen and counsel two folks who had been harmed by the financial meltdown of the last few years. All the while, the participants (members of Congress) are screaming about the recess appointment process which gave Cordray his new job. The president, or host of the show, seems in complete control, creating “Jerry Springer” moments and then walking away, letting the “participants” look like out-of-control drama kings and queens.
Why would the president start this reality show in 2012, the same year as his re-election for a second term? The answer for this writer is simple ... because of Congress’s approval rating. Last week, it came out that Congress's approval rating hit an all-time low, according to the latest Rasmussen Reports national phone poll. They polled 1,000 likely voters on Dec. 27-28 and found that only 5 percent thought Congress was doing a good or excellent job. If only 5 percent of the public approve of Congress, that means that 95 percent of us presumably don’t like Congress. If the president can orchestrate mini-turf battles and tug-of-war games with Congress and win them, at least temporarily, he appears to be on the side of the 95 percent of us that dislike Congress. These scenarios, if repeated over and over in 2012, will allow us to begin to think of President Obama as being “on our side.”
Members of Congress allowed themselves to be cast in this reality TV series as a result of their legislative accomplishments starting from the beginning of President Obama’s term of office. Remember, the Democratically controlled Congress passed almost every initiative this president asked of it in 2009 and 2010. By 2011, the American people had really begun to feel the effects of the president’s legislation agenda and all of the adverse effects. The American people began to lash out at the ones who enacted the harmful legislation … members of Congress. Once Congress’s approval rating hit rock-bottom, the president cast them in his new reality TV series. Almost immediately the president began to look like he is standing up for the “little guy” because his adversary is the extremely unpopular Congress.
If Congress doesn’t begin to recast itself in a different role, the president might just win the survivor grand prize this coming November.
Stay tuned to see how this new reality TV show works out for our president and Congress over the next several months
Elizabeth B. Letchworth is a retired, elected United States Senate secretary for the majority and minority. Currently she is a senior legislative adviser for Covington & Burling, LLC and is the founder of GradeGov.com.