And so a new year begins, and we are haunted by some of the old questions. But before Congress returns to the Capitol and before the White House creaks back into action, we might pause to examine the state of our politics. This is an election year, the contours of the 2016 presidential campaign will begin to take form, and vital budgetary, military and diplomatic questions issues will need to be confronted.
The year will open with a blast from the past: the memoir of former Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who because he served in the Pentagon under both a Republican and Democratic president ought not to be dismissed as a cranky geezer befuddled by memories of rosier good-old-days. This is a serious man, with a history degree from William and Mary and a Ph.D. from Georgetown, service under eight presidents and experience as the director of Central Intelligence and as president of Texas A&M University.
Gates’ book will salute both George W. Bush and Barack Obama for their personal chivalry but criticize many of their decisions. It also will excoriate Congress as “(u)ncivil, incompetent in fulfilling basic constitutional responsibilities (such as timely appropriations), micromanagerial, parochial, hypocritical, egotistical, thin-skinned, too often putting self (and re-election) before country ...”
That is a searing, but not a daring, assessment. A McClatchy-Marist poll released last month showed the president and Congress with all-time low ratings, with about two-thirds of the country viewing the nation as being on the wrong track. So much for the glad tidings of the holiday season.
It may seem wearisome to read about governmental dysfunction and public disapproval, they being such hardy perennials. Indeed, two generations of Americans have come to maturity with the conviction that the government is bad, that politics is worse, that things are deteriorating at an ever-quickening pace and that hope should be abandoned at the exit door of the maternity ward.