(CNN) – In travels this week — to Boston, Chicago, New York — friends and strangers alike have said the same thing: They are turned off and tuned out of the sequestration mess in Washington. To a person, they are sick of the antics of those to whom they have entrusted enormous power.
In times past, a president has usually risen to the demands of leadership when a Congress has stubbornly resisted tough choices, such as the upcoming mandatory budget cuts that are called sequestration.
That’s what Lyndon Johnson did in persuading key Republicans to help pass the civil rights bills of 1964 and 1965. And that’s what Bill Clinton did in working with a Republican House led by Newt Gingrich. People forget how hostile House Republicans were to Clinton — hell, they impeached him — but he nonetheless worked with them to pass four straight balanced budgets and an overhaul of welfare.
In other times, Congress has displayed serious leadership when a president has lost his way. That’s what Congress did to curtail overseas military ventures after two presidents in a row got us into a quagmire in Vietnam. And that’s what top congressmen like Sam Ervin and Howard Baker did when Richard Nixon went off the tracks in Watergate.
But today, we have a rare moment when both Congress and the president are retreating from their responsibilities. It’s hard to recall a time when we were so leaderless.
One of the foremost duties of Congress is to pass a budget: It has failed for four straight years. Republicans, especially in the House, have continually refused to meet the White House halfway. Meanwhile, a president who promised to be a solution has become part of the problem. Ever since his re-election, Barack Obama has seemed more intent on campaigning than governing.