Soap opera season in Washington

Maybe the soap operas have disappeared from television. And maybe they have not. The posturing over the debt ceiling negotiations have been as melodramatic as As The World Turns with a bit of Days of our Lives tossed in.

Melodramas are a big part of politics, of course. Always will be. When elections loom, they grow bigger. And when a president needs some good press, they grow immense. Especially when he’s already begun his campaign for the White House. And especially when his opponents are already bushwacking him at every turn.

That is not all that has been going on with these negotiations. There are items of substance being negotiated. How much we will aim to trim from big benefit programs. How much we will cut or raise taxes. And who we will whack with any tax increases.

The figures are huge. In the trillions. However, the trillions will be spread over many years. So the annual savings are not that big. And the sad thing is that these battles will have to be fought again and again over the next few years. That is because a $2 or $3 or $4 trillion cut over ten years is not going to be enough. If they raise taxes, whatever they raise will not be enough.

This is why it is a shame that soap opera season is in full swing in Washington. This is not a crisis from your mother’s All My Children. This is the real stuff. This is heavy lifting time.

The politicians resort to the drama because they know millions of us digest sound bites and slogans and not much more. A lot of folks may fret over the negotiations. But they have no clue what the nitty gritty of them is. And so, the pols resort to your-grandmother-will-end-up-on-the-street sort of rhetoric. “It’s the economy, stupid!” was a prime example from a few elections ago.

Like actors in the soaps, politicians get a lot of coaching. Advisors constantly feed them phrases and postures their polling tells them will work. The advisors work within a massive industry. The spin industry. And the best of the pols stays on script.

Some of the talk shows on radio reveal this. They take a sound bite from one politician on an issue that is big in the news. Then they play sound bites from a dozen other politicians. Along with sound bites from network newscasters. All of the people caught on tape are using the same pithy phrase. On the same day.

Whatever the phrase du jour is, these birds chirp it. (The President usually has his own tailor-made phrase, suitable for a sound bite. His handlers notify the press that he will say something snappy and memorable in his speech this afternoon.)

The dramatics we’ve seen over the past two weeks have to do with the big show coming next November. All the players are testing their lines. Their pollsters are trying to determine which ones work best with voters they are targeting. The lines that resonate most will end up in the campaign speeches.

For the politicians these spoon-fed lines will be a Guiding Light in their Search for Tomorrow. However, watching and listening to them will remind me – and many of us - of All My Children.

From Tom ... as in Morgan.                  

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