Well, the Mayans were wrong about the world ending, Jack Van Impe was wrong again on the rapture, and the fiscal cliff was avoided. Yahoo! But just as Americans never really seemed to understand what the Mayans were saying (it was the calendar ending, not the world), few Americans really grasped what the fiscal cliff meant.
And it isn’t hard to understand why.
The fiscal cliff, like its parent the debt ceiling, is an arbitrary creation; a crisis of convenient contrivance. Both parent and child were born of power politics, with no connection to economic or financial need. The 2011 confrontation over the debt ceiling produced a series of debt reduction spending cuts known as the sequester scheduled to take effect in January of 2013. These cuts were seen as “fiscally responsible,” despite the macroeconomic nonsense of massive spending cuts during a slow recovery. A year later, those that saw the sequester as fiscal responsibility, acknowledged the fiscal irresponsibility of the sequester. The presence of the spending cuts, paired with the expiration of both the Bush and Obama tax cuts, created a precipitous cliff over which our nation might fall.
One week removed from the tragedy of Newtown, and the usual actors have rolled out the usual solutions. Early calls for bans on assault weapons were heard from reliably liberal sources, and demands for more firearms access were heard from reliably conservative sources. Finally, the N.R.A. weighed in with a dramatic condemnation of Hollywood and other cultural influences, and a call for armed security guards in every school. Most of those calling for their favorite solution to gun violence are absolutely certain of a) the certainty of success for that solution and b) the certainty of failure for every other proposal.
How utterly ridiculous and sad.
Many have gone on television to pontificate about how “this time its different” (because, apparently the deaths of first graders is tragic and shocking, but high school and college kids are not); I have my doubts. If this time is truly different, if the horror we felt one week ago is truly strong enough to burn through our collective cynicism, then we will see it in the suggestion and debate of holistic solutions based on the fullness of available data.
What is it about our society, and in particular our politics, that stifles the basic question/answer process? Questions and answers, causes and effects, problems and solutions; these constructs should not be difficult. But we Americans have divorced ourselves from these fundamentals. As a society, we have adopted the communication tactics formerly employed by teenagers.
A problem, in the teenage mind, is not a problem unless they might perceive a direct and immediate personal effect. A problem, for teenagers, that is not perceived as having direct or immediate effect, is valuable only in its ability to present opportunities for positive personal effect. A question, asked of a teenager, is meant to be answered directly only when the direct answer benefits the teenager directly and immediately. In the third century of American politics, it is the teenager’s self-absorbed, time-constrained perspective that dictates the conversation.
Dead on arrival. That is, apparently, the favored conservative method for addressing any and all policy suggestions or plans made by the President. It must be a highly technical political term, because it isn’t immediately obvious that the phrase has any predictive value.
The Stimulus Bill is dead on arrival.-Mitch McConnell
ObamaCare is dead on arrival.-Every Republican Open Mouth
An Obama Second Term is dead on arrival.-Reince Preibus
The President’s plan for deficit reduction is dead on arrival.-John Boehner