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Mitch, Joe know the backroom game
Bob Franken
Bob Franken is an Emmy-winning journalist. - photo by File photo

It was 1973 when the hit movie “The Way We Were” was released, starring Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford as an unlikely couple with divergent political beliefs and backgrounds. It came with a haunting title song, sung by Streisand. 

While most of us wouldn’t want to “light the corners of my mind” with recent memories -- unless you’re into nightmares -- if it were to be remade about the current political climate, it would be called “MAGA,” another way of saying “the way we were.” Redford would definitely not be playing any of the main characters, and Donald Trump has been written out of the script. This time, the important couple trying to recall their relationship of so many years ago would be Joe Biden and Mitch McConnell.

That would make some risky assumptions. It would suppose that Trump had exhausted all of his various subterfuges and had been dragged kicking and screaming out of the executive mansion. It would also hypothesize that McConnell would maintain his position as the opposition’s majority leader of the Senate -- a likely prospect, because any other scenario would assume the Democrats had been successful in both Georgia runoff elections to choose the state’s U.S. senators. Given the Democrats’ track record, that would be far-fetched. 

The likelihood is that President Biden and Sen. McConnell will resume playing “Let’s Make a Deal,” a throwback to the good old days of the Swamp, when they were both Swamp Creatures.

“Can it be that it was all so simple then? Or has time rewritten every line?”

True, time has rewritten every line. Now so many lines appear as Twitter or Facebook misinformation -- actually, let’s call them what they are: lies. But still, it is worth a try to achieve what’s necessary to rescue America, by some good old-fashioned give-and-take. “Compromise” isn’t necessarily a profane word. McConnell and Biden helped write the book on negotiation.

Mitch and Joe know how the backroom game is played. Back in late 2012, when Biden was vice president in Obama’s administration and McConnell was still the Republican leader in the Senate, the United States was about to welch on its debts. The two warring parties were locked in intransigence over raising the borrowing limit. The U.S. faced the calamity of not being able to pay its financial obligations and defaulting for the first time in history.

At the last minute, McConnell reached across party lines and made a phone call to Biden. Both had honed their skills with decades of Senate experience together. So when McConnell dialed from his Capitol office to Biden in the White House, all he had to say was, “Does anyone down there know how to cut a deal?” They certainly did, and a few hours later, the nation had been rescued at the last minute from mortification.

Will these two 78-year-olds gloss over the extreme antagonisms that have paralyzed our country? Or is it too late? Will Trump’s sludge, as he plots a comeback and still manages to confuse his misled 70 million supporters, gum up the works, making governing impossible? Is the United States of America trapped in that abyss, inevitably falling into just historical memory?

Marilyn Bergman, Allen Bergman and Marvin Hamlisch’s title song “The Way We Were” puts it:

“If we had the chance to do it all again, tell me, would we, could we?” 

Can we?

Bob Franken is an Emmy Award-winning reporter who covered Washington for more than 20 years with CNN.

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