The Charlotte Observer held a public forum Friday night where former and current members of Congress addressed the impending fiscal cliff of doom and lack of bipartisanship in Washington. While I was not expecting to leave feeling like all our nation's problems had been or would be solved, I thought I'd at least be provided a glimmer of hope. I thought wrong.
Moderator Sonja Gantt of WCNC started things off by reminding us that our country is more than $16 trillion in debt and has the most dysfunctional Congress since the 1800s. Fun times.
During the first panel, former North Carolina Governor Jim Martin and former Congressman John Spratt kicked it Bartles & Jaymes style, waxing nostalgic about the good ol' days when everyone got along in Washington.
When asked how average citizens could effect change, Martin basically said to "become a lobbyist." Spratt confided that letters with butter stains on them are the most effective at reaching your representative, because they are drafted by mothers sitting at filthy kitchen tables. So there's that. Also, with this email thing the kids are talking about, you can send the same letter to two congressmen at once! I am not sure how you'll get the butter stains on the email, though. Figure it out, America.
Before the second panel, we watched a short video during which the audience cheered loudly for a woman who advocated congressional term limits. Then, Gantt introduced Democratic Congressman Mel Watt, who has been in office for 20 years. Awkward.
Watt was joined by Republican representatives Patrick McHenry and Mick Mulvaney. All three wasted no time casting blame for congressional impotence.
McHenry blamed a lack of centered solutions, as if solutions just exist and no one has the ability to create them. He said there is only one direction or another on the issues: "Do you want bigger government or smaller government?" Someone yelled "Better government!" to which he responded with laughter, because yeah, right, keep dreaming. He likened solving issues in Congress to trying to decide whether he should go to New York or Miami. How about you just stay your ass in Washington and accomplish something, Pat?
Watt took the always politically popular position of blaming the public, which he says is too lazy these days to research who is looking out for its best interest. He said everyone takes the easy route by just aligning themselves with a political party.
Mulvaney said the media was to blame for polarizing the country by only covering congressional fights on big issues, never covering small issues solved through compromise. I don't announce to my boss every time I reply to an email. Mulvaney, your boss, the American public, doesn't need to know every time you perform a menial task adequately. They need to know when you can't. Thus, the media coverage.
As if these three weren't lovable enough, next we got a video of Rep. Richard Hudson telling us he believes compromise is important. He was then asked if he would vote for a compromise of spending reductions combined with tax increases to solve the fiscal cliff and he replies "I can't commit to that compromise." The audience roared with laughter.
He expressed contempt for political scientists, saying they know nothing about the real world. But when asked later what voters want, he said he'd let the political scientists figure that out. I'm not sure if he was deliberately insulting the constituent who asked the question or if he was admitting he knows less than political scientists, whom he already said know nothing. Does this guy ever listen to himself? Seriously, how did he get elected?
Gantt asked both Republican representatives McHenry and Mulvaney if they'd consider compromising on tax increases. They say no.
Gantt asked Watt if he'd consider compromising on entitlement reforms. He says absolutely. She then asked about congressional term limits, and he replied, "I think term limits are the most asinine idea anyone ever came up with." I guess he was just keeping it real.
Exactly when will this fiscal cliff thing be solved? Watt predicted sometime between Dec. 20-23, which is also when Mayans predicted the apocalypse would happen. Neither will. I'm calling it now.
Mulvaney predicted it would be in 2013 after the Bush tax cuts expire so that everyone can claim to have lowered taxes, instead of raising them in 2012 to arrive at the same figure. He got booed for being so cynical, but everyone knew he was right.
After the forum concluded, a still-hot microphone picked up Gantt muttering a disappointed "Oh my goodness." My sentiments exactly.