The Sequester and 4 Other Times Washington Jumped the Shark

PHOTO: CapitolAlex Brandon/AP Photo
Tour buses drive by as construction continues on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol to prepare for the presidential inauguration, Thursday, Oct. 25, 2012, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

A couple of years ago, politicians in Washington, D.C., ginned up a batch of automatic spending cuts so severe they would force lawmakers to reach a deal on a more reasonable deficit-reduction plan instead. They failed to reach such an agreement, triggering the cuts, commonly known as the "sequester." It sounds bad. It is bad. Then again, we've been down this road before. Here are some other examples of how dumb politics can get.

1. Budget Wars

Leaders in both parties say the sequestration cuts would be calamitous for the economy and national security. But instead of reaching an agreement to avert the cuts, President Barack Obama, Republicans and Democrats in Washington focused more on spinning and blaming each other for cooking them up. Members of Congress left town for the week one day before the cuts were to take effect.

Sequestration is so bad, it got Obama to utter the phrase "Jedi mind meld." And then this happened.

While sequestration has been the talk of Washington the past few weeks, we've seen this movie many, many times before. Let's not forget the post-election "fiscal cliff" battle, or the debt-limit fight of 2011, which resulted in Standard & Poor's downgrading the nation's AAA credit rating for the first time in history.

2. Every Election 2012 Gaffe

Binders Full of Women. Big Bird. You Didn't Build That. #Eastwooding. Etch A Sketch.

Thank God it's over...

3. Birtherism

Ever since Barack Obama ran for president, a cadre of conservatives inside and outside the Beltway has questioned his U.S. citizenship in an effort to discredit his eligibility for the nation's highest office.

The so-called "birther" movement sparked some wild stunts. Donald Trump got into the act, repeatedly questioning Obama's birth certificate, and even releasing his own "dare."

Say what you will about the president, these claims were patently absurd (not to mention false). Even though the "birther" claims had long been discredited, Obama eventually released his full birth certificate to the public in 2011. And yes, he was born in Hawaii.

Obama got the last laugh at that year's White House correspondent's dinner when he roasted The Donald in front of a very large crowd. Oh, and the web.

4. The Beer Summit

Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. was arrested in July 2009 by a Cambridge, Mass. police officer who was responding to a call about a potential break in. The problem was, Gates was simply trying to enter his own home. The charges against Gates were dropped, but the incident still sparked a heated national debate over racial profiling.

President Obama, who is friends with Gates, decided to weigh in. He appeared in the White House briefing room and said the police acted "stupidly." Cue the media firestorm. Obama called the police officer who made the arrest, Sgt. Jim Crowley, to smooth things over.

The group decided to get together for a so-called "Beer Summit" to finally bury the hatchet, which was covered with even more breathless hype.

"The president will drink Bud Light," then-White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told the press before the summit.

Awesome. We guess.

5. "Changing" Washington

A significant part of Obama's appeal during the 2008 campaign was his promise to change how business is done in Washington, particularly limiting the influence of special interests and money in politics.

But as ProPublica's Justin Elliott deftly noted in January, Obama has gone back on many of the pledges he made during his campaign and his presidency on issues such as public funding of elections, super PACs and corporate spending on politics.

The White House, however, has consistently claimed that this administration is the "most transparent" in history, citing things like increased access to visitor records and other documents, as well as efforts to engage the public. But journalists have consistently questioned whether the White House has been forthcoming on other issues, such as sensitive document requests.

As the old saying goes: The more things change, the more they remain the same.