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Shows that went on way too long
"Californication" (seven seasons)
President Obama’s 2012 campaign manager, Jim Messina, is a politics-over-policy guy. So it was interesting to hear him confess to ABC News last week that he only had two “white knuckle moments” during the reelection push – and one of them was after the awful August 2011 debt-ceiling deal (the other was Obama’s poor showing in the first debate, which rabid Obama defenders insisted was a fiction made up by Chris Matthews).
Of course, Messina’s reaction to the debt-ceiling deal had to do with politics, not policy, but it’s still revealing. “After the August debt-limit crisis … our numbers were, you know, historically low,” the political whiz said.
Indeed. After Obama and GOP leaders made a deal to avert a default – resulting in the ugly sequester cuts that are currently taking their toll on the economy as well as on Obama’s popularity – the president’s approval rating reached an all-time low. Gallup tracking polls had him at 39 percent in mid-August, which was the first time he’d dipped below the treacherous 40 percent mark as president.
Even more worrisome, there was evidence that voters disapproved of the way Obama handled the debt-ceiling crisis. A third of independents told pollsters they thought he didn’t fight Republicans hard enough – and a majority of Democratic-leaning independents, the real electoral prize for the president, felt that way. Obama’s numbers only climbed after he dropped his placating stance, crusaded for a jobs bill and developed a new populist tone. That’s all history.
Yet it’s history the administration doesn’t seem to remember, or, to be fair, apparently remembers differently. White House sources are now telling reporters that the president is “strongly considering” including entitlement cuts in his 2014 budget, to be introduced around April 10. The budget could lay out precise cuts to Social Security and Medicare, as well as Medicaid, that the president has reportedly been offering in futile negotiations with Republicans, but that he’s never officially spelled out.
The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that the budget will likely include the chained CPI for Social Security. “We and all of the groups engaged on this are starting to feel it may well be in the budget,” AARP vice president Nancy LeaMond told the WSJ. The same day the New York Times revealed that Obama and House Republicans are getting close to agreement on a package of Medicare cuts that would restructure Medicare parts A and B – one covers hospitalization, the other doctors’ visits — to raise deductibles for the 80 percent of seniors who see doctors but don’t require hospitalization in any given year. The Times reports that some version of the proposal might also find its way into the 2014 budget.
Including entitlement curbs would be notable, the WSJ’s Damien Parella notes, “as Republicans often have criticized the White House for offering such steps in private negotiations but never fully embracing them as part of an official budget plan.”
But if he’s now embracing them publicly, doesn’t that remove them as something to bargain over?
Let’s remember the key passage in Ron Fournier’s recent piece predicting that a “grand bargain” including tax hikes and entitlement cuts was still possible, Republican obstructionism notwithstanding.
What is the GOP incentive to deal? First, getting the signature of a Democratic president on a bill reducing entitlements would be a victory for a generation’s worth of Republican candidates. Casting GOP politicians as Granny-bashers would be harder to do after a Democratic White House tweaks Medicare and Social Security. Second, even token reforms by Obama in 2013, opens the door to deeper entitlement changes in the future.
OK, I’d rather not see Obama make that deal, because I think it’s bad policy. As a New York Times editorial argued Sunday, less than half of 55- to 64-year-olds have any retirement savings, and of those who’ve managed to save, half have less than $120,000. It’s also bad politics: Watch for Republicans to hang those cuts around the neck of Democrats for years to come. But in the context of a big deal that raises revenue, they’re at least debatable.
But putting them in a budget document with the president’s name on it, without getting anything in exchange? No one in the Senate wants his or her name on chained CPI: 10 days ago by voice vote they backed a measure by Sen. Bernie Sanders specifically opposing a switch to the chained CPI. No voice was raised on the other side.
The president’s political folks know that his futile crusade for compromise with Republicans at any cost hurt him politically. Jim Messina called the debt-ceiling debacle a “white knuckle moment” for the 2012 reelection campaign. So what would be different now (for Democrats, anyway; the president doesn’t have to face reelection)?
Obama is likely to defend such proposed cuts as necessary to afford investment in programs for young people, including a new and necessary push for preschool. As Paul Krugman explained so eloquently – and as I’ve argued here and here – deficit-cutting is now being defended as “for the children.”
It’s as if someone sent out a memo saying that the Chicken Little act, with its repeated warnings of a U.S. debt crisis that keeps not happening, has outlived its usefulness. Suddenly, the argument has changed: It’s not about the crisis next month; it’s about the long run, about not cheating our children. The deficit, we’re told, is really a moral issue.
We are of course cheating our children, but it’s not with entitlement spending; it’s with 30 years of tax cutting and disinvestment in education. Today, we cheat them by ignoring the joblessness and poverty of their parents, while acting like education is a reliable ticket out of poverty, when for too many kids, it won’t be.
Joan Walsh is Salon's editor at large and the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America." More Joan Walsh.
"Californication" (seven seasons)
"Entourage" (eight seasons)
Much like “Californication,” this man-centric show started strong and buzzy -- a perpetual nominee at the Golden Globes and Emmys, and a perceived gender-swapped “Sex and the City.” Then it ground on and on, and what might once have been read as a sophisticated satire of Hollywood materialism became a grinding conveyor belt of self-congratulatory guest-star appearances.
"Will & Grace" (eight seasons)
Hey, did someone say “self-congratulatory guest-star appearances?” Look -- it’s Jennifer Lopez, and Cher, and Janet Jackson, and Madonna! The latter seasons of “Will & Grace” effectively ruined the fun of watching the show in syndication now -- will it be a fun and jaunty early episode, or a later episode in which title characters enact an Ibsen play about having a baby together (really) while Jack and Karen meet one pop star or another? The fact that the show hastened a widespread acceptance of gay people that, then, made the show something of a throwback by the time it ended is one thing; the fact that the show itself seemed uninterested in relying on its actors’ sharp comic timing is quite another.
"The King of Queens" (nine seasons)
This CBS stalwart just kind of kept going, exactly as long as was needed to launch Kevin James’ film career. In the show’s final minutes, a formulaic sitcom became a mile-a-minute soap, with the central characters considering divorce and then having two children.
"Frasier" (11 seasons)
Though it ended strong, "Frasier" had something of the opposite problem as “The King of Queens”: While the CBS comedy chucked a whole bunch of plot at viewers toward the end, NBC’s Emmy magnet stayed stuck in familiar ruts, with Frasier questing endlessly for love and Daphne and Niles in fairly unthrilling domestic bliss. The jokes stayed good, but this maybe could have gone one or two years shorter.
"Weeds" (eight seasons)
As “Homeland” viewers may be learning, Showtime isn’t particularly good at keeping its shows coherent over time. (Maybe this is “Californication”’s issue -- we wouldn’t know!) This show changed settings and, effectively, organizing conceits so many times that by the end, it had few earnest defenders.
"Nip/Tuck" (six seasons)
This FX series, too, changed settings midway through, moving from Miami to Los Angeles four seasons in for no compelling reason. The show’s most gripping subplots had a way of petering out (remember the anticlimactic solution to the mystery of the Carver?), and its bizarre tendencies overtook any sense of fun.
"Glee" (five seasons and counting)
The series has, like its sibling show “Nip/Tuck” (Ryan Murphy created them both), switched locations, moving in large part to New York once its core cast graduated high school. But what’s the point of a high school series when the stars graduate? Despite some lovely moments, the show’s heat seems gone, and attempts to get back into the conversation (the school shooting episode, for instance) have been more desperate and tone-deaf than effective.
"Grey's Anatomy" (10 seasons and counting)
Here’s the thing: By all accounts, “Grey’s Anatomy” is not a creative failure. And it’s still widely watched. But when you begin your life as a world-beating hit, anything else seems somewhat marginal. “Grey’s Anatomy” has shed more regular viewers than many shows will ever hope to get in the first place (same’s true of “Survivor” and latter-day “ER,” to name just a few). Those who stopped watching once the Golden Globe nominations petered out may wonder why the show is still on; loyal viewers know better.
"The Simpsons" (25 seasons and counting)
Like the “Grey’s” doctors, the Springfield clan and their neighbors still draw a crowd. But “The Simpsons” is so omnipresent in syndication and in pop culture that the first-run series seems besides the point (not least because, though there are good episodes here and there, the show’s best days are universally agreed to be behind it -- like way behind it, in the 1990s).
"The Office" (nine seasons)
There was a natural break for this show, where it ought to have ended -- with the departure of lead actor Steve Carell in Season 7. The latter years were a creative fugue state, and as NBC’s Thursday night lineup continued to flatline in the ratings, one-time fans could be forgiven at their surprise that the adventures of Jim and Pam kept on unfolding.
"The X-Files" (nine seasons)
Once one of the show’s leads departs and has to be replaced -- as Steve Carell did on “The Office,” or David Duchovny did here -- the show faces a reckoning; if the lead is so central to the show’s plot as to make people wonder how the show could possibly go on, maybe the show shouldn’t. And even “X-Files” superfans might have been happier with fewer seasons of drawing out the conspiracy string toward a famously unsatisfying ending.
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