If America is the greatest country in the world, why does its government stink so bad?
Have you been watching this, humble citizens? The Fiscal Cliff Show? Have you ever seen anything so dysfunctional, so surreal, so pathetic? If it were an '80s sitcom, there would be an annoying laughtrack to the whole thing; but, sadly, it's a 21st-century reality show. And who just got voted off the island? America.
For months, all through the $2 billion presidential campaign (has more money ever been spent to arrive at the exact same point we were before it all started?), lawmakers from both sides warned that a "fiscal cliff" loomed. Even though the Mayans said Doomsday was 12/21/12, this was far worse, America's servants huffed — a cliff, people! And it's fiscal!
So, right after President Obama was re-elected — with 50.9 percent of Americans saying, "Eh, whatever, it's still George W. Bush's fault and maybe four more years of free money will fix everything right up," the president got to work to solve America's "overhanging face of rock" problem.
The first thing he did, bipartisan maven that he is, was to double his demand on tax increases. Sure, Speaker John A. Boehner, the weakest leader of the Republican Party in 50 years, had offered $800 billion in new taxes during the last broken negotiations, but Mr. Bipartisan decided that Nov. 6 had given him a "mandate," so now, his demand was twice that.
Millionaires and billionaires, he moaned, are the real problem with America, the president cried. How dare they live the American Dream through hard work and ingenuity! They're taking all the money! Yes, Steve Jobs busted his hump for 40 years to make Apple into a $750 billion company, but does he really deserve a boat!? ("Noooo," cried the 50.9 percent, waving signs made by union bosses who make a million dollars a year.)
Now, Republicans, they weren't none too happy with that little development. They said maybe we could just, you know, close all those "loopholes" — like, uh, deducting stuff, things like that — and bring in that $1.6 trillion America so desperately needs to micturate away next year. They even laid the whole plan out — in three pages, double-spaced, with really wide margins, like high school freshmen. Oh, and they didn't include any of that mind-numbing math, like, just how they were going to come up with $1.6 trillion.
Well, the president, needless to say, was having none of that. And he long ago had stopped targeting those horrible millionaires: Now, he wanted 40 percent of anything over $250,000 any greedy American makes. Because, let's be honest, the 55-year-old man who has spent 35 years working his way up the ladder, providing for his family, sending his kids to college (without even taking a government Pell Grant!) sure doesn't deserve to prepare for his own retirement, maybe buy a house by a lake so his grandkids can come feed the ducks.
Then, along came Savior Boehner: He had a plan — let's tax the hell out of everyone who makes more than $1 million, he said. But the Democrats hated that plan — hated it. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid hated it. And House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi really hated it.
But Mr. Boehner pointed out to ol' Nance — it was YOUR plan! Remember, last May?
"Democrats believe that tax cuts for those earning more than a million dollars a year should expire and that we should use the resulting revenues to pay down the deficit," she said then.
Ah, but Mrs. "Moneybags" Pelosi said, "Aha! Gotcha!" As the "fiscal cliff" negotiations ramped up this past week, she said back then, she was simply trying to "smoke out the Republicans — at what level would you raise the rates on the wealthiest people in our country?"
"That was the point of that exercise," she said with a straight face. (Seriously, people, you can't make this stuff up). You can't, she whined, take, like, her own words "in isolation." But does anyone really think the former speaker is capable of such guile? You've seen her talk, right? She seems not to know what she's about to say, seems almost always surprised by the words that have just come out of her mouth. Still, that amount of Botox does give her the ability to hide any "tells," like, say, facial expressions, so who knows.
Anyway, now, here's where it gets just so surreal that you would swear someone was making this up. Mr. Boehner, who had challenged the president with his own plan to keep America from skidding down that escarpment, plunging off that precipice, rocketing off that rocky height, apparently had forgotten to check with his own troops. Turns out, even they didn't like his plan. In a late-night humiliation, the speaker pulled the bill altogether.
Then, in the two-hour season finale (Jeff Probst parachuted onto the Capitol Dome in the opening), the speaker and the president held dueling news conferences. And they were the most hilarious of all.
Mr. Boehner, looking like a whipped whelp, held court first. "So," he said whelpingly, "we see a situation where because of the political divide in the country, because of the divide here in Washington, trying to bridge these differences has been difficult. If it were easy, I guarantee you this would have been done decades before."
"Mr. Speaker," a reporter said, "it sounds like you're walking away from talks with the president."
"No, no, no. Listen, I did not say that. Nobody is out to read anything into this" — this cataclysmic failure to even persuade his own party to support his plan.
The president took the podium next, and, in an arrogant, ego-filled flourish, said he would rather negotiate with, say, America — everyone in America! — instead of these bull-headed lawmakers.
"The challenge that we've got right now is that the American people are a lot more sensible and a lot more thoughtful and much more willing to compromise, and give, and sacrifice, and act responsibly than their elected representatives are. And that's a problem," he said.
But hey, not THAT big a problem, really. With the nation about to plummet over the rocky crag, the president saw an upside to the disastrous and abrupt end to negotiations. "Everybody can drink some eggnog, have some Christmas cookies, sing some Christmas carols," he said with his patented, self-satisfied smile. Fade to black. Cue credits.
And that's just what he did. The president grabbed the family and jetted off to Hawaii (cost for the 10-hour flight, at $181,757 per hour — $1.8 million — just for the flight!). By noon the next day he was on the golf course, teeing it up with his hooker-loving buddy Bobby Titcomb. The 535 lawmakers also jetted off to their respective homes — who knows how many millions of taxpayer dollars that cost.
It's a real cliff-hanger, America. What will happen next season? Of course, the president will jet back (maybe with a jetpack on his back), stern furrow in his brow, that knowing smug smile, to fix all of our wagons. But will he be able to overcome the nefarious alliances being built up in the grass huts around the Capitol? Can he make a deal to, say, vote the Speaker off the island and join forces with whoever fills the power vacuum? And can he even get his own tribe in the Senate to do — well, anything at all?
Stay tuned, America. Unlike TV, it's all real, and your very life depends on it.
• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.