This is a week for metaphors. For example, a car spinning out of control on black ice. A sloop stuck in the doldrums of the Pacific and not moving. A line of voters stretching for miles in which not one voter ever gets to cast a ballot.
The subject of all these sentences, of course, is our government. To others, internationally, our country.
Since John Boehner came acropper with his infamous “Plan B” and then walked away, nothing has been happening in Washington about anything, not about the fiscal cliff, not about immigration, not about knowing how to govern.
Mr. Boehner now shelters his ego by telling us that it’s up to the Senate to come to his rescue and by implication to the rescue of the country. This despite a clear constitutional mandate for the House to deal with economics, and for the Senate to deal in advice and consent.
We don’t, and apparently can’t, know what Republican legislators are hearing from their constituents as they celebrate the season in the security of their homes. Almost every Republican has gone underground. Members of both houses are hiding from the press, and no doubt hiding from their constituents as well, hoping to be left alone until the new year.
Not all non-news is bad, however. Mitch McConnell, minority leader of the Senate, has disappeared down a rabbit hole, neither speaking nor even being seen. The oleaginous leader is a leader in fear. He faces re-election in 2014.
The only Republicans not living in terror and the threat of being primaried in two years are those members of the Tea Party who have reached, without much effort, a position on the big board in which they seem free enough to stand quietly, happy to watch the country approach going down the tubes, resting in the lights of some unspecified and completely alien principle only they can see and feel.
And what of our vacationing President, now back from the shores of Hawaii? Is he stronger for Republican inaction or weaker? Does he really have lines in the sand beyond which he won’t go? Freed from ever having to campaign and run again, is he finally able to convince himself that this is the time for hope and action?
No one knows that, either.
The only sure thing we’ve learned since the middle of the month is that the NRA isn’t going to give an inch.
Mr. LaPierre is doing his job, which has less to do with protecting the rights of gun owners than selling firearms. At this task he’s unbeatable.
He has become the very model of the perfect lobbyist. Repeat and repeat at every opportunity how dangerous American lives are due to films, video games, crazy people. He has solutions, of course, which come perilously close to this: lock up any one suspected of being less than totally sane and arm everyone else.
Remarkably people are seriously considering ways of separating those who might actually be mentally off-balance from the rest of us.
Richard Nixon once tried to do this, for real. His personal physician wrote piece after piece about being able to foresee who might be “pre-criminal” and lock them away immediately. Nixon was happy to agree. Psychologically test and screen children at about eight, say, and take it from there. Separate those who tested as likely to engage in criminal behavior during their lifetimes and put them away.
To point out that this would be unconstitutional, not to mention imperfect, could nearly put you on an “enemy’s list.”
As a nation, right now we are being bludgeoned by uncertainty. There are meetings scheduled for the weekend, on Friday and on Sunday. The house is being called back to D.C. to open once more on Sunday, as it waits for the results of the late afternoon meeting between the president and legislative leaders. Once more, no doubt, offers will be made and rejected.
Having said no to the best deal he’s ever going to be offered, John Boehner will play little part in these discussions, except as spokesman for his party when they conclude. He and Mitch McConnell will stagger to the bank of microphones outside the White House, with hound-dog eyes and deep grieving tones, to tell us that no deal has been reached because the Democrats will not put more discretionary cuts on the table.
And chances are that the president will address the nation on television and radio the same evening, telling us that the Republicans in the House are stuck in amber, unable among even themselves to reach an kind of consensus that would avoid our going over that infamous fiscal cliff. He will tell us to watch our pennies and to pray.
Timothy Geithner will repeat that we’re at the ends of our fiscal rope as of Monday next, but that we can still stagger forward for another few weeks.
125 million families will lose unemployment benefits, food stamps, educational tax credits for their children. Implementation of all government programs will slow to a snail’s pace. And perhaps for a short time the Defense Department will escape cuts in its budget. Millionaires will lack nothing.
The current theory is that after a few days, a deal will be made, beginning with rolling back the lost payroll tax cut, and reinstating unemployment benefits retroactively to the first of the year. What is thereafter planned is a stately march to solvency in tiny steps, up until the end of February when once more the nation will be embroiled in a Tea Party driven battle over the debt ceiling.
If 2012 looks bleak in memory, how much worse will 2013 look in reality?
Enthusiasm for politicians of all stripes will dive, consumer confidence will tank, people will stop spending on their own discretionary purchases. The economy will wobble and perhaps fall back not into recession but this time a full-blown Depression.
One thing above all is certain. The blame game will continue.
With a nation bludgeoned to the ground by its own representatives who do not understand their roles as agents for their constituents but rather concentrate on running once more for re-election and all the benefits that provides, the US of A will come to resemble other troubled nations like Greece and Portugal and Spain.
And because we are all so interconnected in terms of trade and communications and stock markets and bafflement, what happens in this country will ricochet around the world.
Just to hedge one’s bets a little, there is some small chance that the President will raise his voice and force discussions to a temporary conclusion that will avert some or all of the above. There is some chance Mr. Boehner will not keep his speakership. There is an even tinier chance that voters around the country will finally understand that what they voted for in November, especially the Republicans, is anything but grass roots and everything for the incredibly rich Far Right.
But looking up from the ground where we are half-conscious and bloody, the possibilities for relief of any sort from this performance are mighty slim.