Thanks to the constant bickering between Congress and the White House, “he started it” — the classic phrase uttered by every 3-year-old child with an older sibling — is now common Washington parlance. As with children, it is almost never a legitimate gripe or excuse for poor behavior. Moms expect more, and so should we. The nastiness, the requisite cheap shot, the inability to have a civil discussion do not move the country forward.

The latest dustup — booking a date for President Obama’s important speech on job creation — underscores that there are a lot of small people holding big offices these days. Having worked behind the scenes in Congress for about a decade, I know scheduling snafus can happen. Many a time, the members will pass it off on sloppy staff work, allowing both sides to save face and move on. Sadly — and I do mean sadly — no such luck here. This perfunctory matter became a public battlefield upon which the Speaker had a Pyrrhic victory, if a victory at all. He got the date he wanted. But he trivialized the Office of the Speaker by not differentiating between fights worth winning or, more fundamentally, fights worth having.

One organization made this distinction and came out on top: the NFL, whose season opener is coincidentally the same night as the president’s speech. If ever there were two groups poised not to work things out, it was the players union and the league owners. Yet work it out they did, with closed-door negotiations and each group’s dignity — and financial well-being — intact. No excuses here, just a goal and a drive to accomplish it. This is the kind of result I’d expect our political leadership to deliver for the 13.9 million people out of work in this country.

But this is the Waah-Waah Congress. They do not solve problems — they complain about them. They don’t debate issues, they argue over them. Whether the issue is tackling the debt limit or making time for the president, they do not seem to have the desire or skill to find common ground. This is the difference between fighting a good fight and fighting to fight. I’m with the moms on the playground who say, “Who cares who started it?” Just please finish it.


Lindsay Ellenbogen is a former aide to members of Congress and to the mayor of New York City. Follow Lindsay on Twitter @ElleExplains.