William F. B. O'Reilly is a Republican consultant.
LaGuardia Airport, early Sunday morning.
Two young men, identical twins in smart tortoise shell glasses, directly face me at an open counter, each deeply absorbed in an iPad.
"Stop kicking your leg," the one to my right mutters, without so much as looking up from his device.
"I'm not kicking," the one on my left snaps back, zipping through his Web pages as he does. "You're always kicking," his brother says.
The exchange went on from there, with neither raising his eyes once from his reading, or, seemingly, thinking anything of the volley. The petty complaints and retorts were automatic, part of an exchange that may very well have begun in the womb.
The scene made me recall a half-baked proposal I read about in the late 1990s as a possible fix to the enduring conflict in Northern Ireland between Catholics and Protestants.
An inventive British minister proposed that England grant 50,000 visas to Hong Kong Chinese willing to relocate to Northern Ireland. The theory was that it would inject money into Northern Ireland and dilute the hatred between the Irish sects living there.
"You don't understand Northern Ireland," someone quipped in response. "In 10 years you'll have 25,000 Hong Kong Chinese lined up with the Protestants and 25,000 with the Catholics."
Resentments left to fester can consume nations.
If you ask anyone in Washington -- or Albany or any state capital -- why some obvious need cannot be met, they will usually say one of two things: "It's not that simple," or "It's a lot more complicated than that."
I'm sure that's exactly what my neighbors at LaGuardia would say.
But is it really? Or is half the problem in Washington that the players have annoyed the living bejeezus out of one another over a period of years and now hate to concede anything?
The challenges facing governments today are enormous, but let's get real; they're not complicated. The average apolitical American almost certainly could chart a course, within days, to lower our national debt burden better than the one we're on now. (Are we on one now?) America is borrowing more than 40 cents of every dollar it spends. Let's stop doing that, the rational person might say. And if tweaking entitlement programs, closing tax loopholes and pulling some troops out of Europe will get our budgets in balance, then let's do that, too.
If familiarity is half the problem, then the special interest machine is the other half. Members are hamstrung by pledges and candidate questionnaires from unions and other interest groups locking them into positions. They are left no room for nuance or compromise. Those interest groups come with lobbyists, PR teams and lots of advertising dollars. God help you if you cross them.
Long-term elected officials have become so entangled in relationships with special interests and their lobbyists that nothing will ever be simple for them again. Just look at the lard stuffed into the so-called fiscal cliff deal. Somehow rum producers in the U.S. Virgin Islands got involved in it, getting a generous tax break in the final arrangement.
Maybe the problem in Washington is that the decision-makers have been around too long. Maybe for the debt ceiling talks we should let the newly elected freshman put a plan on the table. Things may not be so complicated for them.
William F. B. O'Reilly is a Newsday columnist and a Republican political consultant.