Speaking to a collection of people that included Barbra Streisand – and asking them, just incidentally, for money – President Obama made his case in this fashion:

"… despite ending two wars, despite the progress that we've made on issues that are important to everybody here, there’s still disquiet around the country. There’s an anxiety and sense of frustration. And the reason is … because people understand that for all that we've done, the challenges out there remain daunting and we have a Washington that's not working.”

Washington doesn’t work. This formulation, or some variant, is so commonplace that one never questions it. Got that right, you might think. They can't get anything done in Washington. Can’t put aside their partisan differences, roll up their sleeves, and …

But maybe they don’t want to. What’s the upside, for Washington, of an end to the divisions and demoralization that the president and others so often and eloquently lament? In an era of good feeling and general prosperity, why would anyone come out to hear him speak and to write him a check? He got elected on a promise of ending the partisan gridlock and changing the tone. It worked then and it is still working. If you are a full-service, career politician, demoralization is good.

The president could do many things to lower the political temperature. He could, for starters, ease up on the red-meat speeches to audiences of fat cats from the worlds of show business and high-finance. (Otherwise known as the “one-percent.”) He could still give speeches but find more soothing themes. Maybe talk about the “little platoons” and civic virtue. He could attempt to stay out of the limelight and lower expectations regarding what government can do. He could, in short, be more like Calvin Coolidge and less like Huey Long.

And if he is looking for some specific action that he could take, then how about making a decision, one way or the other, on the Keystone Pipeline? Stringing it out merely increases the stakes and stokes up the already inflamed emotions. But, then, this is undoubtedly working exactly to the benefit of the political class. The longer this issue remains in play, the more money both sides need to raise. The more lobbying there is to be done. The more alarmist speeches there are to be given to constituencies that will be made to believe that with the stakes so high, their votes and their money are crucial …

Washington not working?

Nope. It is merely operating as individuals do. According, that is, to what it perceives as its self-interest.

And if the citizenry doesn’t like it, all the better.

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