By Mark Sheilds
Labor Day signals the end of summer. Cottages are closed, and schools are open. The days grow shorter and the nights cooler. The seasons are changing; autumn is on deck. Labor Day, always the first Monday in September -- and not Jan. 1 in the dark middle of winter -- is the logical New Year's.
This means that the desk must be cleaned out. What follows are a few of my "end-of-the-year" odds and ends.
The U.S. Congress, which only 12 percent of voters in the most recent Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll rate favorably, do in fact serve two enormously important purposes. The Congress, by comparison, can make the U.N. look efficient and make a president's job rating look good.
Republicans in Congress with an average unfavorable rating from 65 percent of voters in the last five major national surveys are struggling, but Democrats cannot be too excited about their party's congresspersons average unfavorable score of 59 percent in the same polls. The Democrats' campaign strategy - essentially -- consists of Not Being The Other Guys.
Bob Filner was the first Democrat in 20 years to be elected mayor of San Diego. But after 18 separate women publicly accused him of sexual harassment, Mayor Filner resigned. Come to think of it, the most terrifying words for any male officeholder to hear could be "Personal for you online one; it's attorney Gloria Allred."
There are four U.S. states that begin with "New." New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York and New Jersey. But only one of the four doesn't need the "New" to identify it. You say "Jersey" and everybody knows what you mean. And Jersey, one of only two states (the other is Virginia) holding a gubernatorial race this year, is home to Gov. Chris Christie, the only national political figure who is rated favorably across the board among Republicans, Democrats and independents.
Christie underwent lap band surgery to control his weight last February. This reminds me of the foolproof test for whether you need to change your diet: If you're sitting in the bathtub and the water in the toilet bowl rises, you do have a weight problem.
Pollsters who eventually discover that half the population is "below average" get to ask all kinds of questions. One question that has always intrigued me: If mime Marcel Marceau were arrested, would the police tell him he has the right to remain silent?
I'm confused. Is Senate Majority leader Harry Reid like Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell without the charisma? Or is Mitch McConnell like Harry Reid without the charisma?
In the Middle East turmoil, even Democrats concede that President Barack Obama has seemed tentative and indecisive. Or as they say at the White House: "A mind is a terrible thing to make up."
Freshman Republican senator Ted Cruz of Texas does not lack self-confidence. The Texan and self-doubt are total strangers. One Republican asked the other day: What's the difference between God and Ted Cruz? Answer: God doesn't think that he's Ted Cruz.
Just 10 months ago, Barack Obama became the first U.S. president since Dwight Eisenhower to win more than 51 percent of the popular vote in successive national elections. Some conservatives insisted that Mr. Obama would not have won without the votes of blacks or Hispanics or gays - or, as some people call them, Americans.
Happy New Year.