How am I going to get you interested in the lame-duck Congress? Did you even know they came back? Perhaps it’s like reports that Randy Jackson is leaving “American Idol” – the amazing news is that “American Idol” is still on the air.
See? You’re already a little more engaged because I mentioned an old hit television show. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
There actually is an interesting “American Idol” story abroad in the political world these days. Season 2 runner-up Clay Aiken ran as a Democrat for Congress in North Carolina this year. It was an effort so improbable that it inspired little hope even among Democrats who believed their party was going to do very well in the elections. And, indeed, Aiken lost by 18 percentage points. Although he turned out to be a sort of a winner, since he was secretly filming his entire adventure for a four-part reality TV series for the Esquire Network.
Perhaps you did not even know there was an Esquire Network, although its programming, which includes “Brew Dogs,” “Friday Night Tykes” and “White Collar Brawlers” is currently available in more than 74 million American households.
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Some of Aiken’s donors demanded that their faces be blotted out of what the creators like to refer to as the “documentary.” Really, you should not drag innocent bystanders into your reality TV show. People should be more considerate, like Sens. Martin Heinrich and Jeff Flake, who staged their “Rival Survival” show on a deserted island, where there was absolutely nobody for the camera to film except the two politicians.
The theme of “Rival Survival,” which aired recently on the Discovery Channel (“Naked and Afraid,” “Dude, You’re Screwed,” “Moonshiners”), was whether two lawmakers from opposing parties could get along when left alone on a remote island with no food, water or shelter. And the answer was: Yes! Heinrich and Flake got along great. They also proved incapable of building a proper camp, boiling water or catching any fish. I believe there is an important metaphor in there somewhere.
But about the lame-duck Congress.
The House and Senate are back. Much like “Rival Survival,” the big suspense involves whether the chastened Democrats and empowered Republicans will manage to work together.
On Wednesday, the initial answer was: For sure! “I have been able to strike compromise with my Republican colleagues, and I’m ready to do it again,” said the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, when the Senate staggered back into session. Reid said Congress should listen to the will of the voters – who, he noted quickly, had voted in four red states to raise the minimum wage.
“Let’s step back and focus on what can be accomplished together,” said the Republican leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell. He most definitely made no mention of the minimum wage.
“Let’s begin with trusting each other, moving forward and passing the Keystone pipeline,” said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La.
Yes! Keystone XL. Landrieu is facing a runoff election Dec. 6, and she wants to send a message to her state that she knows how to help Big Oil.
“Elections have consequences,” she said, calling for a quick vote on a bill authorizing construction of the pipeline. “And this one does. … And one of the consequences is that a clear path for Keystone has been opened up.”
Wow. Who knew that was the message? Many environmentalists are violently against the Keystone project because it would carry oil to the Gulf refineries from the tar sands of Canada, which is particularly bad when it comes to carbon emissions.
The pipeline may wind up getting built anyway, but nothing is going to happen until a court case over its route is resolved in Nebraska. A vote right now by Congress would be meaningless, and it’s a terrible moment to take a symbolic stand, since President Barack Obama was just in China, announcing an agreement on fighting global warming.
There’s that. But then, on the other hand, there’s an election in Louisiana. While Landrieu was demanding a vote on her pipeline bill in the Senate, the House was gearing up to pass exactly the same bill, under the sponsorship of Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-La., who happens to be her opponent in the Senate runoff next month.
There is also going to be a runoff for the House seat in the district Cassidy currently represents. The Democratic candidate is Edwin Edwards, former governor, former incarcerated felon due to a series of political corruption cases and former star of the reality show “The Governor’s Wife,” on A&E (“Storage Wars,” “Duck Dynasty,” “Bad Ink”).
Maybe they could do a series about the Keystone Pipeline (“Tar Sands Tough Guys”) or the Louisiana runoffs (“Bayou Blowhards”). Or the Lame-Duck Congress! Maybe the nation would get engaged if it could see the behind-the-scenes story of the appropriations process (“Fiscal Cliffhangers”) or the day-to-day achievements of the House of Representatives (“Name That Post Office.”)
All the world’s a stage.