Paul Greenberg

Walking by the bank of television sets out in the old-fashioned, wide-open, sunlit newsroom here in Little Rock, I just had to stop for a minute to see what the panel of distinguished commentators were saying about the latest capital-C Crisis. That's how it is in Teeveeland. No broadcast out of Washington or anywhere else is complete without a Crisis of the day, maybe hour.

The talking heads were wearing expressions even more solemn than usual. When I turned up the sound, it took only a ponderous phrase or two to realize they weren't being authoritative in the old Walter Cronkite, Brinkley-Huntley style at all. They were in their Sincerely Mystified mode.

You got the feeling that David Gergen and Co. were about to scratch their heads in genuine wonderment at the latest standoff in Washington. They couldn't seem to understand it, even after all the years they'd spent watching politicians in action, or inaction, in the nation's capital. They kept asking: Why? Why? Why? Here's what had them collectively gobsmacked:

After all these high-pressure weeks of intense negotiation between the executive and legislative branches, between the two parties in our two-party system and the two houses of Congress in our bicameral system and sausage factory, how was it that no agreement had been reached?

You could see the question marks in the pundits' eyes and hear the puzzlement between the lines of their comments: Doesn't anybody here know how to play this game? The deadline for a deal was fast approaching. Only a few more days and hours were left before the sky would fall. The bond markets were waiting. Yet no budget had been agreed on, no face-saving measure for both sides had been patched together and waved in triumph just in the nick of time. What was going on here?

These were experienced journalists on the tube. Yet they sounded stumped. The only thing that seemed beyond their comprehensive knowledge of The Process, it turns out, is . . . honest disagreement. One in which both sides have their principles, or at least prejudices, and are sticking with them, and aren't out just to score talking points.

To our sophisticates, this standoff was a novelty, a strangeness they hadn't encountered before in Washington -- even after all their years covering national politics. They were clearly struggling to get their minds around it.

Allow me to help: What we have here is a difference not just of opinion but of convictions. Going from left to right, let's start with a president who believes no deal, no compromise, and especially no tax -- excuse me, Revenue Increase -- is fair unless it raises the taxes the rich already pay. It's part of his political DNA.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.