From Maine comes this dispatch from a historian friend of mine, Alan Ginsberg, who, like many of us, has become discouraged by the wall-to-wall squabbling that has dominated Washington: "The rhetoric daily seems to grow more bitter, even destructive. The incessant arguing over money, money, money sounds like a bad marriage that is coming totally apart."
Of course, he is right.
The Great Public Squabble of 2013 might not be helping the nation. But it is manifestly hurting the Republican Party. In the most recent Wall Street Journal-NBC News national poll, one original question captured that fact: "Based on what you have seen, heard or read recently, do you feel that (fill in the blank) is emphasizing unifying the country in a bipartisan way or emphasizing a partisan approach in a way that does not unify the country?"
A plurality of Americans, 48 percent, believes that President Barack Obama is "emphasizing unifying the country in a bipartisan way," while 43 percent see the president "emphasizing a partisan approach." Not spectacular marks, but impressive when compared to the failing grades these same voters on the same question give to the Republican Party.
Consider these two numbers: More than one out of three (34 percent) of those polled self-identified as Republicans, but barely one out of five of the total (22 percent) feel that Republicans are acting in a bipartisan fashion to unify the country. That's right, not even two-thirds of Republicans give their own party positive grades. By an almost 3-1 margin instead, some 64 percent of respondents see the GOP as following a partisan course "that does not unify the country."
Republicans also trailed Democrats on a whole series of questions about which party could better help the middle class or handle Medicare to which could better deal with the economy, immigration and taxes. (Out of 12 issues asked, Republicans were given the edge on just three - reducing the federal deficit, controlling government spending and ensuring a strong national defense.)
Democratic pollster Fred Yang, who collaborated on the Journal-NBC News poll with Republican pollster Bill McInturff, referring to the Oscar-nominated movie, observed that "Republicans don't need a silver lining. They need a whole new playbook."
This marks the end of good news for the Democrats. Compared to Republicans who currently suffer from the political equivalent of terminal halitosis, the D's may not look that bad. But compared to themselves from four or even 12 years earlier, today's Democrats look really bad.
In a 2001 Pew Research survey, the Democratic Party had a 60 percent favorable rating from voters. Eight years later, some 62 percent of those asked rated Democrats favorably. Yes, today only 33 percent rate the Republican Party favorably, which is awful. But in the most recent Pew poll, the Democratic Party gets favorable remarks from only 47 percent of voters, a significant 15 percent drop from 2009.
Disappointment and discouragement with Washington is followed by continued loss of confidence in the national government and its ability to be wise in policy, practical in action and prudent with the public purse. The climate in our capital city reminds me of what Grantland Rice, the wonderful sportswriter, once wrote: "For when the One Great Scorer comes to write against your name, He marks not whether you won or lost - but how you played the Game."
But in the current atmosphere of political recrimination, bickering parties and diminished trust, Rice's quote would read differently: "For when the One great Scorer comes to write against your name, He marks not whether you won or lost - but who gets the blame!"
To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.