Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012 | 2 a.m.
When the Mayan calendar runs out on Friday, it can only mean one thing: The end of life as we know it.
Perhaps an asteroid will hit the planet (duck and cover!) or the planet will spin off its axis (hold on!), or maybe it will be what the many doomsdayers have been bracing for: the zombie apocalypse.
Despite many people’s love for a good ghost (or end-of-the-world) story, by next weekend the Mayan calendar will go the way of Y2K and Nostradamus, and apocalypse lovers and zombie hunters will have to move on to the next big scare. They may not have to go far.
If nothing changes in Washington in the coming days, they’ll have an easy transition to the only impending apocalyptic tale going: the “fiscal cliff”!
You know the story: There’s a standoff of epic proportions in Washington that could end with the country doomed, the economy in ruins and Third World nations looking down on America.
That’s not to belittle or minimize the gravity of the situation. There are serious implications in the fiscal cliff that need to be addressed, but let’s not take it to end-of-the-world hyperbole. That has only exacerbated problems in the debate. As a result, neither side has been willing to budge much. In fact, the stakes seem to have increased. For the Democrats, it’s about taking a strong political position to set the tone for President Barack Obama’s second term. For Republicans, the fiscal cliff has been inflated into a matter of life-or-death principles, and they don’t want to cede any ground to a president they have spent four years vociferously opposing.
Not that the country hasn’t seen that act before. You may recall that some conservatives argued that if the president was re-elected, it would bring the end of truth, justice and the American way, not to mention the demise of the economy and spread European socialism across the land. (And perhaps usher in an era of zombies.)
Or, as it turned out, not.
Now, Republicans are accusing Obama of more of the same. Outgoing Sen. Jim DeMint, the Tea Party favorite from South Carolina, complained that the president “is intentionally trying to take us over this cliff” and said the country “is going to collapse.” House Speaker John Boehner posted a picture on his website of Obama surrounded by children with the caption, “Don’t worry, kids — I put it on your tab.” Alongside each child is the per capita share of the federal debt — $51,986.
Nothing subtle about that; Obama wants to harm the country and has doomed the nation’s children to a future of debt.
But the story of a national collapse due to the fiscal cliff is akin to the end-of-the-world myth surrounding the end of the Mayan calendar. The Republican leaders’ doom-and-gloom prophecies might make good sound bites and play to the conservative base, but they’re not accurate and they don’t help solve the problem. The debt has been decades in the making because of actions of both parties, and the cliff isn’t going to cause the nation to collapse.
Republicans shouldn’t duck their own responsibility. Not only have they been big spenders but also the fiscal cliff was triggered after they walked away from budget negotiations last year.
This situation can be solved, but it will take some good-faith negotiations and compromises by both sides. That takes some leadership, and you won’t find that in anyone clinging to a Mayan calendar or proclaiming that the end of the world is here.