Happy days at the edge of a cliff
La Di Dah Di Dah ...
We have been through a lot, people. But now the presidential race is settled. Barack Obama won. People on both sides worked heroically, and, on Tuesday, their candidates behaved well. This should be a happy time.
Oh, my God! There’s a fiscal cliff! We’re all going to fall over and go bankrupt!
Did you just hear the cheerful rule? The fiscal cliff doesn’t happen until the end of the year when the Bush tax cuts expire and monster budget cuts automatically kick in. Now that the election’s over, everybody will certainly be ready to move forward and work something out.
Except possibly Gov. Rick Perry, who celebrated the president’s re-election by demanding the repeal of Obamacare.
And then there was Donald Trump, who tweeted during the vote count: “Lets fight like hell and stop this great and disgusting injustice! The world is laughing at us.”
Actually Trump has no conceivable impact on anything. I just wanted to take this opportunity to reminisce about the time he sent me an irate, handwritten message in which he misspelled the word “too.”
But look at Rep. John Boehner. On Wednesday, the House speaker gave a speech in which he vowed to be cooperative.
“Mister President, this is your moment. We’re ready to be led,” he said.
Except for a few no-go areas, such as any tax increases on “small business.” You may remember from previous crises that the House Republicans oppose raising income taxes on the wealthy because it would impact struggling small businesses such as a hedge fund manager with an eight-figure annual income.
Boehner also raised a whole new specter of political peril: “going over part of the fiscal cliff.” That sounded less dire, as long as we all stay inside our dangling cars and refrain from making any moves until help arrives.
But, by the end, it sounded as if the only cliff-avoidance Boehner was really interested in was one that raised new revenue through “fewer loopholes, and lower rates for all.”
We have already seen that plan. It was proposed by a man who, on Tuesday, lost the state in which he was born, the state in which he was governor and the three states in which he owns houses. Thanks to a blog by Eric Ostermeier in Smart Politics, I am able to point out that the only candidate for president who lost his home state by a larger margin than Mitt Romney was John Fremont in 1856. And Fremont was coming out of a campaign in which the opposition accused him of being a cannibal.
While Boehner was explaining the importance of not going halfway over a cliff, or raising income taxes on the rich, he looked somber and somewhat unhappy. This may have been because his Republican colleagues just lost the White House and the Senate. Or perhaps, it was simply because he’s an older white guy, and, therefore, part of the biggest loser demographic of the election, the flip-side of the insurgent Latino vote.
On election night, people were talking about the not-young male population as if they were a dwindling tribe of graybeards sitting around a sputtering stove in Oklahoma. Republican strategist John Weaver worried about becoming “a shrinking regional party of middle-aged and older white men.” On Fox News, Bill O’Reilly moaned that “the white establishment is now the minority.”
O’Reilly, 63, added that the new majority was composed of people who “want stuff.” As opposed to older white men, all of whom have signed a pledge never to accept veteran benefits, Social Security or Medicare.
“It’s not a traditional America anymore,” O’Reilly sadly concluded.
Almost everybody thinks of the world of their youth as the traditional world. In the future, today’s teenagers will be looking back and mournfully declaring that traditional America was a place where folks really knew how to Twitter. Still, it’s unseemly to identify the true America as the one where your group ran everything.
Cheer up, white men! You seem to be doing OK. Next year women will have 20 percent of the seats in the U.S. Senate, and we’re celebrating.
And since it looks as if we’re not getting any downtime, we’ll have to get cracking on this latest congressional crisis. Root for a bipartisan solution that does not involve the White House’s being hijacked by a guy who keeps babbling about going halfway over a cliff.
In the past, when these things came up, the president’s big failing was his inability to hide his contempt for many of the people who occupy Capitol Hill. Now it’s a new day, and he needs to be so perpetually and visibly available that the negotiators beg to be left alone.
If all else fails, strap John Boehner to the roof of a car.
Gail Collins is a columnist for The New York Times.