The summer of our political kvetching

We asked WaPo reporter Joel Achenbach to write us a week in review with his reflections about the past seven days in the world — and Washington. He agreed. This is that piece.

The House voted down the Farm Bill this week, an ominous sign that, with the arrival of the solstice, we face a long summer of partisan gridlock, dysfunction, sniping, grousing and that most dreaded of political behaviors, kvetching. The Farm Bill is supposed to be a lay-up. But most Democrats voted against it, because it cut the food stamps program, and a quarter of the Republicans voted against it, because they hate government spending. This could mean, according to our story today, all kinds of problems in the agricultural sector, including a rise in milk prices. I am sure I speak for all Americans across this vast land when I say that there will be riots in the streets if this drives up the price of a latte.

The world markets have been roiled this week by the prospect of central bankers ceasing to print money. I have no idea how how any of that works, but I’m tired of living in an era in which markets are so chronically roiled. Enough with the roiling! I’m just done with that. That’s not how I roil.

Earlier this week I wrote about NASA’s plan to capture an asteroid, redirect it lunar orbit, and visit it with astronauts aboard a new spaceship. Now it crosses my mind that NASA just says this stuff to confuse the Chinese. Keep em’ guessing. Don’t let them know that we secretly have a manned lunar base and are sending astronauts to Pluto. And then to the Sombrero Galaxy, just to see if up close it really looks like a hat.


NSA chief, Gen. Keith Alexander, testifies this week about secret surveillance programs.

Misdirection. Disinformation. That’s the stuff that’s hard to detect. All this news about the NSA, maybe it’s just planted BY THE NSA to throw off the other spies out there. Maybe Edward Snowden is secretly working for … yeah, you guessed it … the NSA. He’s pretending to be a whistleblower. See it’s all double-cross and reverse-loop betrayal and disinformation. When you read the newspaper, you need to ask yourself – and this includes when you are simply reading the weather report – “What’s the deep game here?”

Speaking of games: What an incredible NBA Finals! I said in this space a couple of weeks ago that LeBron would find a way to win the series. He went for 37 points last night, made five 3s, grabbed 12 rebounds, had 4 assists and 2 steals. He had help: The injured Wade went for 23 points and 10 boards, and Battier had a career game, with six 3s. If you didn’t stay up to watch the game, and you look only at the final score (95-88) you might mistakenly think it wasn’t that close. But with 2 minutes left, the score was 90 to 88. Chalmers missed 2 foul shots, the Heat suddenly went cold, and with a minute left it was still a 2-point game and the Spurs had the ball. Conspiracy theorists thought the refs did the Heat favors in Game 6 to push the series to Game 7, but in the final minute we saw Duncan miss a makeable shot and Ginobli once again throw away the ball. LeBron hit a huge jump shot with 27 seconds left and the Spurs went paws up. These were two great teams, evenly matched, but home court and the screaming crowd may have made a difference for the Heat in the frantic final minutes.

LeBron after the game was asked how he handles his critics, who are legion, though no doubt decreasing in number after his second consecutive NBA championship. He said he doesn’t worry about what people say: “I’m Lebron James, from Akron, Ohio, from the inner city, I’m not even supposed to be here. That’s enough. Every night I walk into the locker room I see a number 6 with ‘James’ on the back. I’m blessed. So what everybody say about me off the court, don’t matter. I ain’t got no worries!”

The big picture is, the NBA will someday supplant the concussion-shaken NFL as the top sport in America.

Pop culture: This week we lost James Gandolfini. Yesterday on my blog I wrote about  Gandolfini’s untimely death at the age of 51, and I suggested in passing that Tony Soprano was among the top 5 TV characters of all time. Off the top of my head I mentioned a few other TV icons (revealing my antediluvian cultural reference points): Lucy Ricardo, Archie Bunker, Spock, Cliff Huxtable, Hawkeye Pierce. Readers jumped in with their own ideas. For example, Mary Richards. And Sipowicz from NYPD Blue.

You could make the case that the greatest characters on TV are often in secondary roles. Thus Kelsey Grammer as Frasier Crane was the star, but his lovesick brother Niles Crane was the better character. Mary Richards was an iconic character who did much, culturally, to establish the legitimacy of being a single, working woman in the mainstream of American life, but, with all due respect to Mary Tyler Moore, hers wasn’t the funniest or most entrancing character on the show. That would be bombastic Ted Baxter (Ted Knight). And of course Don Knotts as Barney Fife always stole the show from Andy Griffith’s Andy Taylor.

Jerry Seinfeld wasn’t the greatest character on “Seinfeld.” That would be George Costanza, with Cosmo Kramer a very close second. (Right? No? I think Kramer didn’t have quite as much subtlety. He was the hilarious guy who was always going to burst through the door and say something outlandish – a scene-stealer from the get-go. But Costanza’s conniving loserdom and chronically frustrated masculinity – shades of Barney Fife! -- were the comic heart of the series).

I wonder what TV shows Obama likes. I assume he watches a lot of ESPN highlights while he’s on the treadmill. Otherwise, he’s stuck reading briefing papers and approving drone strikes. (Meanwhile, I will bet you anything that John Boehner’s favorite show is “F Troop.”) (And what do you bet that Bill Clinton’s favorite is “Breaking Bad”?)

One more thought: In the future, when historians try to figure out what life was like in the 2010s, they won’t click through political blog posts, or read our Twitter feeds. They’ll get more traction with our TV shows. Inevitably TV reflects, and helps shape, an era. In “Star Trek” in the 1960s you had a glimpse of a multiracial future (and intergalactic democracy-building). “All in the Family” reflected the generation gap, the rise of a counterculture, and desegregation. “M*A*S*H” was a post-Vietnam anti-war narrative. This societal reflection may be harder to discern in an era when entertainment is so fragmented. And I’m not sure reality shows are truly about reality. But if you want to know who we are, look at what we watching just for fun.

Joel Achenbach writes on science and politics for the Post's national desk and on the "Achenblog."
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Aaron Blake · June 21, 2013