Everywhere you turn, these last few weeks, all we hear about is the fiscal cliff, or curb, if you’re into the “lean forward” channel.
Everyone and their mothers have an opinion. Strange, how we’re all fixated on what is essentially a really unsexy, mundane policy battle. But someone called it the cliff, and cliffs are so cool and dangerous, and we all want to look over the edge, and now we might be going over one; so that’s even cooler and more dangerous, if we all go over a cliff together.
Debate is supposed to be a good thing, negotiations between the political parties even better. But I can’t remember the last time I was so unsatisfied and unimpressed with political theater, even if it’s called “the cliff.”
There’s like no nuance, no intrigue, no real drama. Every day it’s play, rewind, repeat.
The President says he wants a deal, but not without higher rates. The Speaker of the House responds that there can be no deal without entitlement reform. Then the press announces there might be progress. Then they announce that there is no progress. Then I wake up the next day, and it’s exactly the same thing.
But now the President is running his lines at some random family’s breakfast table, and the Speaker is at a Hotel Conference room podium. The following day, the Speaker is in front of a bank of microphones, and the President is now at a diner (oh wait, that was the Vice President).
This is no way to have a debate, or a negotiation, or whatever it is these two guys are doing. This is no cliff; this is like a sleepy, sloping hillside.
My advice to the President: everyone seems to think you’re holding all the cards, so just refuse to negotiate further; lay out your final offer, then bust out your Inner Zen-Master and stop talking about it.
Tell the Speaker that when he’s ready, he can call you…maybe.
Literally, just refuse to engage at all, like period. Go a couple of weeks without uttering a single word about it. There are big problems in the world: Egypt, Syria. Organize a summit. Oraganize two. Go visit some of those world leaders who are feeling neglected by our Pacific Pivot. Go see the troops in Afghanistan. Go see Will & Kate. Leave Washington. Leave the Speaker twisting in the wind.
Let the drama build in your absence. Watch the chattering classes do their thing. Let the opposition party have a collective freak-out, arguing over their positions. Let them debate the meaning of your silence.
Of course, the Speaker will blame you. Of course, he’ll complain about you leaving town. So what?
While you’re off being presidential, he’ll have no one to meet with, except Pelosi and Reed. And they have him outgunned, outsmarted and outflanked. The whole country will be holding their collective breath wondering — what will the Speaker do?
All the while, the calendar will be turning, and we’ll be getting closer and closer to the cliff. But now, there won’t be the boring, daily bickering. Instead there will be intrigue and high-stakes drama. The hero has disengaged, the challengers turn on each other. While you’re bringing world leaders holiday wishes in person, the unopposed winner of the 8th district of Ohio will be isolated and exposed as the small man, from the small district, with the small ideas.
Nobody respects the guy who plays chicken with our country’s economic health. And we can all watch with smug satisfaction, relief and vindication as the anti-hero yanks the emergency brake and turns the wheel away from the cliff just at the last moment, exhausted and defeated.
Now that’s a storyline I’d pay higher rates to see.