By Dana Milbank
WASHINGTON — I’m just back from a week out of the country, and it appears I missed some major happenings.
Political news sites report a significant development in the Pajama Boy controversy (involving a promotion for Obamacare) and the “Duck Dynasty” flap. There’s apparently a new scandal, as well, over the Obama family’s failure to attend church on Christmas. Then there’s the brouhaha about a church in California putting a likeness of Trayvon Martin in its Christmas manger.
From the Drudge Report, meanwhile, I learned the naked truth about two other incidents: a Louisville, Ky., man who ran through a bingo hall with his pants down yelling “Bingo!” and police in Portland, Ore., who used a sandwich to convince an unclothed man not to jump off of a building.
According to ABC News, the man reportedly requested a cheeseburger but eventually settled for turkey and bacon.
That the headlines are about pajamas and bingo is both good and bad. Good, because it means we have no crisis during this holiday season; Congress is in recess, the president is on the beach, and there is no imminent standoff in Washington. Bad, because we’re letting ourselves be distracted again.
In the weeks before the 9/11 attacks in 2001, President George W. Bush was on his ranch in Texas, the big news was about shark attacks, and nobody connected the terrorists’ dots. This time, there’s more than just the theoretical possibility of a crisis to worry about.
On Saturday, 1.3 million unemployed Americans were kicked off unemployment benefits. And if our vacationing lawmakers don’t do something about it when they return, millions more will follow. The matter is getting less attention than Phil Robertson of “Duck Dynasty,” but it’s a real crisis for those affected and a disgrace for the rest of us.
As The Washington Post’s Brad Plumer expertly outlined on Friday, there are 4 million people who have been out of work for 27 weeks or longer, translating to the highest long-term unemployment rate since World War II. These people — young, old and from all kinds of demographics — have a 12 percent chance of finding a job in any given month, and, contrary to the theories of Rand Paul Republicans, there’s little evidence that they’re more likely to find work after losing benefits. Cutting off their benefits only causes more suffering for them and more damage to the economy.
Also last weekend, the Obama administration reported that 1.1 million people had signed up online for coverage under the new health-care law. That’s a dramatic acceleration in enrollment, but it also leaves uninsured millions of people who are eligible for coverage. Some of them are working poor in states where Republican governors have refused to implement the law’s Medicaid expansion, and many more are being discouraged from enrolling by Republicans’ incessant opposition. This month’s CBS News/New York Times poll found that a majority of uninsured Americans disapprove of the new law, even though nearly six in 10 of the uninsured think insurance would improve their health.
These real outrages make the Christmas-week controversies seem like tinsel.
“Can you guess what key thing Obama did not do on Christmas Day?” asked Glenn Beck’s TheBlaze, full of outrage that the president didn’t go to a public worship service. Breitbart.com found it “ironic” that Obama had “recently asked all Christians to remember the religious aspects of Christmas.”
What did they expect from a Muslim born in Kenya?
While that was going on, David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times was deflating an earlier scandal hawked by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of a House committee that had been examining the killing of Americans in Benghazi last year. Issa had charged that the attackers were affiliated with al-Qaida, and he disparaged the administration’s claim that the attack had been stirred up by an anti-Islam video; Kirkpatrick, after an extensive investigation in Benghazi, found no international terrorist involvement but did find that the video played a role.
On NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Issa offered the more qualified claim that while there was no al-Qaeda “central command in control,” some of the attackers were “self-effacing or self-claimed as al-Qaida-linked.”
Those self-effacing terrorists are so beguiling.
No doubt Issa will continue to pursue the Benghazi “scandal.” Others will look deeper into Pajama Boy, or Obama’s religion. If they’d devote a similar intensity toward the jobless and the uninsured, they might actually do some good.
Dana Milbank is a Washington Post columnist.