A cartoon from the Houston Chronicle caught the flavor.
A man standing in front of a burning building labeled "the economy" is shouting into a phone: "My house is on fire, how soon can you get here?"
A fireman who looks like Barack Obama answers, "January 20th."
Yes, we do get only one President at a time, and this is not a comment on who had the right idea on the auto bailout.
Rather, this is an observation on how ineffectual both Congress and the administration have become.
Years of political spin, rosy reports that never seem to match the pictures on television (remember "Brownie, you've done a heck of a job"), and endless partisan turf wars have left the country cynical and suspicious of everything Washington says and does.
So Washington is unable to generate the political will to do anything.
Government's credibility has sunk so low that the pronouncements - no matter how dire - from the lame duck President and the even more unpopular Congress go unheeded, if not unheard.
When Republicans killed the bailout bill, the Republican President was so lacking in influence he could only watch.
Yes, there's a new fire chief coming January 20th, but his first assignment is not to put out the economic fire. First, he must restore the government's credibility.
He might begin by just being candid. Don't over-promise, don't underestimate the difficulty of what's ahead, and please, no magic solutions or assurances that all of this can get done without sacrifice or inconvenience to any of us.
That's the one approach we have proven simply doesn't work.