Official Washington, and its official chroniclers in the press corps, are quite excited for the OK Corral-like showdown over the December 31, 2012 expiration of tax cuts and the January 1, 2013 imposition of “Obamacare” tax increases and automatic spending cuts related to the failure to pass a real budget last year. They’ve named it the fiscal cliff, in order to insure that Americans are left with the indelible imagery of House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) driving a lovely vintage automobile over a cliff in the middle of the desert, smiling an holding hands Thelma and Louise-style while dragging the rest of the country with them.
Like many — if not most — Americans, after two years of showdowns and almost-shutdowns and filibusters that look suspiciously more like a 15-minute vote than a 15-hour oratory and breathless punditry about who is destroying a country and a democracy that seem pretty well intact, I’m having a lot of trouble caring. I’m having a lot of trouble caring because each and every one of these showdowns is unsubtly engineered by a political machine that values confrontation over compromise, and flashy names, inchoate ideologies and cutesy acronyms over serious negotiation, honest principles and the occasional compromise for the good of the people they’ve supposedly been elected to serve. I’m having trouble caring because all of these showdowns result in the same thing: a gentleman’s agreement to put off doing anything permanent until no one needs to be reelected and some sort of pissant policy change that lets everyone claim some sort of victory for their side rather than anything useful for the country. And I’m having trouble caring because these little showdowns somehow always manage to have a positive effect on revenues for the lobbyists whose corporations and clients would be affected by the changes, and for the media establishment for whom any crisis means more eyeballs.
In other words, I’m having trouble caring about yet another manufactured pseudo-crisis in the nation’s capital because no one involved in said crisis honestly believes it is one, and everyone involved in flacking it as a crisis does so for their own benefit. Oh, I’m sorry, is the world going to end if a small proportion of people have higher tax bills in April (assuming that nothing actually gets fixed before their taxes are due)? Are the nation’s rich, elderly Romney voters going to suicide themselves en masse on New Years Eve-eve to prevent their mouth-breathing heirs from paying more direct estate taxes because no tax lawyer would be smart enough to prevent that from happening? Are reasonably wealthy citizens with a high number of income-eliminating tax deductions newly subject to the Alternative Minimum Tax going to storm Capitol Hill with torches and pitchforks demanding that the lemming-like lawmakers take off running for the nearest cliff? No? Then it might not be an actual crisis, folks.
In the mean time, as is de rigueur, lawmakers and horse-race chroniclers will ignore dozens, if not hundreds, of other policy issues that could or should be on the national agenda — everything from Gitmo to drone wars, from drug policy to the fact that we’re an incarceration nation (and how those two things are intimately related), and from paycheck fairness to skyrocketing tuition and beyond — while the bicker about the marginal compromises that will eventually comprise the deal they’ll construct to Save America from the crisis they and their predecessors created by being unwilling to do anything bold or game-changing in the first place despite their own professed ideologies.
And then journalists wonder why people sometimes prefer to watch cat videos on the Internet.
Here’s a cat video.
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