Opinion

Why I'll be avoiding the sequel to the 'fiscal cliff' drama

I invested a great deal of time following the Fiscal Cliff Drama and its main characters, John Boehner and President Obama. But the great fight over taxes and spending cuts ended with a cop-out. There was no satisfying dénouement, and the ticking time-bomb turned out to be fake.

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    House Speaker John Boehner arrives at the House of Representatives, Jan. 1 for the final vote on legislation to avoid the 'fiscal cliff'. Op-ed contributor Jim Sollisch says 'President Obama and John Boehner were two powerful, contrasting characters' in the fight over taxes and spending cuts. 'And yet, they had a shared goal: to save the kingdom. It was almost Shakespearean.'
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The ‘fiscal cliff’ deal left a lot of people disappointed. Liberals think the rich got off too easy. Conservatives can’t find the spending cuts. Economists believe all it does is preserve the status quo. Me? I just feel completely ripped off.

I invested a great deal of time and energy following the Fiscal Cliff Drama. I suspended my disbelief (not to mention my cynicism) about the possibility of a blockbuster bargain. I took the dramatic bait – that this was a crisis to end all crises. It was all there: tension, conflict, history, character.

The ticking clock was a brilliant device. Like an episode of "24" – or any movie where a bomb needs to be diffused – time became a character in the plot. Final. Absolute. Not negotiable. And then it was. If this were an episode of "24", it might have been called "24-ish".

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And to think how hopeful I was at the start – that the ticking bomb would force the characters to definitive action. President Obama and John Boehner were two powerful, contrasting characters – one riding a wave of history, the other stubborn and principled in defeat. And yet, they had a shared goal: to save the kingdom. It was almost Shakespearean.

The stage was set. The risks were real. All the major characters said so. There was a cliff. And a runaway train. We were running out of track. Would we fall? Oh, such sweet drama and brilliant metaphor. The Fall: it’s at the heart of every story since Eve took the apple and our first literary heroes were cast out on their quest.

Then, like any good story, it got a bit more complicated. Minor characters whispered that maybe the president actually wanted to fall off the cliff. And we heard that the speaker might be motivated to jump as well. Edgar Allen Poe called it “the imp of the perverse.” His characters suffered from it – that irrational urge, when looking over a precipice, to want to jump. Was there a streak of Thelma and Louise in Barack and John?

Several plots and subplots emerged. The cliff grew closer. Then we were told it was only a hill. And there were good reasons we should go over it. So many points of view. A wild, sprawling narrative. But which narrator could we trust?

There were betrayals (See Rep. Tom Cole (R) of Oklahoma urging Republicans to take a deal back in November). And public shaming. (See the collapse of Mr. Boehner’s Plan B). And rhetorical flourishes: “We should not take a package put together by a bunch of sleep-deprived octogenarians on New Year’s Eve,” said retiring Rep. Steven C. LaTourette (R) of Ohio.

But in the end, there was no satisfying dénouement. No catharsis to unwind the dramatic tension, fanned by the fatalistic media (a fair match for any Greek chorus). On the last page, we found out that the ticking time-bomb was fake.

My New Year’s resolution is to avoid the sequel (see debt ceiling). But then again, if there’s another time bomb ticking and the markets hang in the balance, I may not be able to resist.

Jim Sollisch is creative director at Marcus Thomas Advertising.

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