Thursday December 27, 2012

STOCKBRIDGE

Who are those guys? Do you remember the movie "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"? Good movie; funny. Butch and Sundance rob trains. The railroad moguls tire of being robbed and hire men to hunt them down.

Butch and Sundance are on the run; behind them is the posse. These are adversaries and neither side is accomplishing anything. No matter what trick Butch and Sundance employ to evade the pursuers, they do not evade them; the posse just keeps coming. No matter how close the posse seems to get, they never catch Butch and Sundance. No one succeeds, no one compromises, and no one alters his behavior. The posse does not hurry or slow, it does not vary its course. Neither Butch nor Sundance consider any other strategy; they just keep running. Periodically Butch looks over his shoulder, stares at the posse in the middle distance and asks, "Who are those guys?"

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When Butch and Sundance get to the physical cliff, with the posse hard behind them, they have to jump. The river is hundreds of feet below. Sundance is really worried, because he admits, he can’t swim. Butch laughs: no call for swimming; "The fall will probably kill you."

So, here is what I would like to know, as we stand on the edge of the fiscal cliff, as prognosticators say swimming won’t help because a significant number of us are going to die in the fall: who are those guys? Our representatives in Washington -- both Democrat and Republican -- who are they? Who are those guys who spent $1.7 billion on a campaign that ends with almost everyone in the same seat as when we started? The silliest, most expensive, most protracted game of musical chairs in memory.

As the cliff looms, who is it that goes home to Ohio and says, "Call me if something changes." Who is it that plans a vacation before plotting a solution, and as the deadline looms, says, "I have a pen, if they bring me something to sign" and holds up the pen? Who are those guys who expect to keep their jobs even as they refuse to do their jobs? Who are those guys who do not compromise and do not alter their message? Who are those guys who just keep coming at the same pace, forcing the country to the edge of the fiscal cliff?

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In seeking an answer, here is some media calculus. They are guys who don’t care if we go over the cliff because after the automatic tax hikes that accompany the fall, they can appear to lower taxes as they raise them. They are the guys who bet on the American public being too dumb to notice.

Oh wait, I know who they are: they are politicians, not statesmen, politicians. They are the fellows who know how to run but do not know how to govern. Once we had leaders less concerned with $1.7 billion horse races and more concerned with building a strong country.

We might consider taking the last speech made by Benjamin Franklin at the Federal Convention (to approve the Constitution), and pasting it to the foreheads of our fearless leaders. As the convention split, and it appeared that the Constitution would not pass, Franklin rose to his feet in an effort to unite the representatives.

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"I confess that I do not entirely approve this constitution at present [however] the older I grow the more apt I am to doubt my own judgments and pay more respect to the judgments of others Š our enemies are waiting with confidence to hear that our councils are confounded Š [that we] only meet to cut each other’s throats. If every one of us, returning to our constituents, were to report objections and endeavor to gain partisans, we might prevent it [the Constitution] being generally received and thereby lose all the salutary effects and great advantages among foreign nations and among ourselves resulting from our real or apparent unanimity Š thus I consent, Sir, to this constitution Š and I hope that for ourselves and our prosperity we act unanimously Š I cannot help but wish that every member of the convention who may still have doubts, on this one occasion, doubt a little his own infallibility Š help make manifest our unanimity Š put his name to this instrument."

On that day, the Constitution of the United States "passed by unanimous consent."

In this day and age, we may not find any who doubt their infallibility. We may go over the fiscal cliff. Or we may avoid it with so weak and wimpy a compromise that it effectively kicks the can down the road. What is unlikely is that our governing body will rise up with courage and intelligence and agree on an elegant solution.

But don’t worry about survival strategies after we go over the fiscal cliff -- the fall will kill you.

Carole Owens is a regular Eagle contributor.