Year of real, made up crises

Published 12:00 pm Friday, October 11, 2013

September is just about over, and even though we have most of fall and a small part of winter to go, for some, the end of the year is nigh. For baseball and its fans, for instance, the year ends in October. And for my Jewish friends, the old year ended a few weeks ago and the new year is already here.

I began thinking about year’s end when I reflected on President Barack Obama’s year so far — year one after re-election, year five of his presidency.

Some of you may remember the 1960s live album “That Was the Year That Was” by Tom Lehrer, one of our finest political satirists. (If only Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert would sing more …) It was a send-up of the crises, real or concocted, of the day. Thinking about the president’s year, one might agree with the opening line of the title song, “That was the year that was, it’s over — let it go.”

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

With three months left in 2013, President Obama may already feel it’s time to say, “Let the year go.”

There was the trifecta of fake scandals — what I call the “mock shock,” since there was no there, there. The economy’s remained an issue — modestly growing, but struggling. The countdown on immigration reform started, then stalled. Gun safety is an issue that just won’t go away because people keep getting massacred and Congress keeps dithering.

Speaking of Congress, at this point, is it anything more than a bad reality TV show? How else can Sen. Ted Cruz’s performance be described? Voted off the island by his fellow Republicans. I don’t think any president has had to deal with a more do-nothing (only about 22 bills passed), hold-my-breath-till-my-face-turns-blue group of “representatives.”

Climate change? Wait till next year. The war on women? Intensifying — see Texas State Sen. Wendy Davis. Voter suppression? “That Was the Week That Was,” a British satire, aired on NBC from 1964 to 1965, at the height of the civil rights movement. Talk about a time warp.

Foreign policy brought its own special headaches. And that’s on a good day. Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons meant getting serious about Syria, and automatically facing more “mock shock” from the right.

If you liked “The Phony Debt Ceiling Crisis, Part I,” you’ll love “Part II: Push America Off the Fiscal Cliff,” coming to a Congress near you this October. And competing for theater time is “The Sequestration” — which should frighten even Stephen King.

Opening earlier last month was “Let’s Slash Food Stamps,” or the “Starve the Working Poor and Struggling Middle Class Bill.” As Republican Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas said, “You can no longer sit on your couch … and expect the federal taxpayer to feed you.” This from a man who will work 126 days (how long the House will be in session) and do nothing — or at least, not do the people’s business — for 239 days, while being fed on $172,000 of taxpayer money.

Finally, there’s Obamacare and the House Republicans’ vote to defund it. Again. And again. And again. And again. And again. It’s like a game show: “America’s Got Talent, Congress Doesn’t.”

If this all seems a bit sardonic, well, it’s been that kind of year, too.

But President Obama is an optimist. And despite the setbacks, when we look back, there will be moments we can point to and the president can say, because of that, “It was a very good year.”

Presidents are like quarterbacks — getting harassed and hit are part of the job description.

A quarterback has four quarters to manage and win a game. A president has four years in a term to define his vision, then manage and guide his agenda into law and policy.

As any quarterback will tell you, all quarters are equally important, but the fourth quarter is the most important. That’s when the field general and the time manager excel.

Sometimes, a quarterback has to make things happen in the fourth quarter -— when the game is close, but especially when the team’s behind.

But sometimes the best thing a quarterback can do is just bide his time — let his defense work, run some running plays, kill clock. When you’ve got a lead, the smart play is to keep the pressure on and run the high-percentage plays.

We’re not into the final quarter of Obama’s term yet. That starts after the mid-term elections in 2014. But in the last quarter of this year, he may already be in control-the-clock mode — because he can still play and find bipartisan solutions to our problems.

The modern presidency has moved from an “imperial presidency” to a “quarterbacking presidency.” And if that’s the case, we’ve got another quarter to go this year. We’ll soon learn — for Obama, Congress and the country — if the year that was, was a very good year.

(Donna Brazile is a senior Democratic strategist, a political commentator and contributor to CNN and ABC News.)