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Future shock: We’re stuck here

Unfortunately for Washington, there is no DeLorean time machine like in Back to the Future to take us to an age when the capital wasn’t a shrieking, destructive partisan place.

Universal Pictures

Unfortunately for Washington, there is no DeLorean time machine like in Back to the Future to take us to an age when the capital wasn’t a shrieking, destructive partisan place.

S o we'll never go back to the future?

A group of physicists at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology have revealed time travel to be more fiction than science.

They have released a research report proving that a single photon, or unit of light, cannot exceed the speed of light, as time-travel conjurers from H.G. Wells to Rod Serling to Woody Allen had hoped.

The physicists determined for the first time that the photon follows Einstein's theory that the speed of light is "the traffic law of the universe" and that nothing can travel faster than light.

So if President Barack Obama is fantasizing about climbing Marty McFly-style into a juiced-up DeLorean and going back to a more civilized, productive era when America wasn't an over-the-hill deadbeat and when Washington wasn't a shrieking, destructive, primal, feudal, apocalyptic wasteland of partisan banshees, he's out of luck. Or science.

For half a century, our trust in government has been falling off a cliff. Some presidential elections have been more about voting against somebody rather than for somebody. There were upticks in faith when Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton delivered prosperity.

But now trust levels are drooping even lower. The public has less faith in Congress than Wall Street, and that's saying something. Most Americans either feel that government is broken or that the fix is in, so that special interests and a handful of people at the top are the only ones benefiting.

The last century was the American century. But this one will not be, thanks to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, who used their boots and spurs to ride roughshod over the globe and U.S. economy. They spent eight years and trillions of dollars either barging into stuff they should have left alone or leaving alone stuff they should have intervened on.

W. accomplished the impossible: He made the Daddy Party less quick-draw. The Republicans' isolationist wing is stronger now because some conservatives and libertarians don't want to pay to stumble into endless, pointless wars.

Still, if the epic budget battle being waged on the Potomac is our own version of the Harrison Ford-Daniel Craig movie Cowboys & Aliens — where our favorite American myths collide — the Republicans will want to be the cowboys.

How else can they continue to paint the president as an aloof, intellectually arrogant, pointy-eared alien?

President Spock, who so sparingly makes emotional connections, felt he had a real one with John Boehner. Chomping Nicorette through the stressful negotiations, Obama actually grew fond of the old-school Republican speaker puffing on cigarettes.

An alien and a cowboy, trying to connect on a fairway rather than a frontier and save America from a credit rating that would be alarmingly comparable to mine.

The Republican "Taliban wing," as some Democrats dub the rabid tea party militants, was determined to break up any budding Obama-Boehner bromance.

Shockingly, the president was left waiting by the phone one day last week while the speaker would not take or return his calls. At some point, Obama, the jilted lover, simply gave up and went to bed.

The White House feels that its foes not only want to stomp on any reasonable compromise; they want to make sure that Obama never has the presidency he dreamed of, one that isn't about digging out from W.'s intractable messes; one that helps the parties reason together and move into the future.

Obama, after all, is a new entity. He's not really a Democratic president. Or a Republican one. He's the first independent president, creating his own party.

"Obama's interests are not the same as the Democrats in Congress in terms of what he needs to do for his own agenda, election and legacy," said one Democratic strategist who notes that now the president can benefit from an obstructionist Republican House as a foil.

White House officials dryly joke that the president's "sweet spot" is his ability to alienate his base and infuriate his foes while falling short of his goals.

Republicans, growing more optimistic in the last 90 days that they can make Obama a one-term president, want to use the budget battle to mark him not only as alien, but too weak to run cowboy nation.

You could argue that Obama created his own nightmare by failing to read the class rage of the public and aggressively cut government fat as soon as he came into office. His passivity allowed the tea party to rise, fed by fury over Nancy Pelosi and the House Democrats stuffing pork into the 2009 stimulus package.

But whatever the criticisms of Obama, it's Republicans who are overtly playing politics. Even though Obama compromises ridiculously easily, the Republicans are showing no willingness at all to compromise.

There's only one thing we can predict about the outcome of this high-noon showdown: Trust in government will continue to crater.

© 2011 New York Times News Service

Future shock: We’re stuck here 07/27/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 27, 2011 4:49pm]
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