The always-excellent Byron York of the Washington Examiner lays out the particulars:
This year the Democratic leadership of the House and Senate made a strategic decision not to pass a budget for the federal government. They feared their spending priorities might not win the approval of voters in November's elections, so they simply opted out of their budgetary responsibility.
More recently, the Democratic leadership made a strategic decision not to decide whether to extend the Bush tax cuts, which are set to expire Dec. 31. If nothing is done, taxes will rise for every American who pays income tax. But, as with the budget, Democrats worried that raising at least some taxes might not win voter approval, so they left the most pressing economic decision of the moment unresolved.
Finally, last Friday, Democrats in the House invited comedian Stephen Colbert to testify, in character as a buffoonish right-wing anchorman, before an otherwise serious hearing on migrant farm workers. Given the gravity of the topic, and of the country's economic situation in general, the performance was so off-key that even Democratic leaders called it inappropriate.
What do those disparate events have in common? In matters large and small, the actions of Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill have created what could be the question of the final weeks of the campaign: Are Democrats really serious about running Congress?
It's an excellent question. I remember the scene 20 years ago, when we had actresses who appeared in farm movies testifying on the farm crisis. That was silly, but they weren't appearing in character. It's mind-boggling, really.
We need our jesters, but no serious government has ever allowed jesters to become involved in actual policy discussions. If Colbert is genuinely serious about these issues, and there are reasons to believe he is, he ought to drop the mask and say his piece without resorting to performance art.
But why would the politicians stage a stunt like this? Here's one view:
Democrats appear too timid to explain to voters why they're not doing what they should be doing. "Part of the reason they didn't want to lay out the budget is that they didn't want to lay out where they were going to take taxes and spending in the next few years," says a GOP strategist. "Any time they have to lay out the direction they intend to go, they believe it will be politically detrimental to the continuation of the Democratic majority."
If you have to evade responsibilities and hide behind jesters, you're in trouble. And deservedly so.