During the presidential campaign the topic of the fiscal cliff was peculiarly ignored. In fact one could have employed argumentum a silentio and conclude that there was no issue to speak of. It can be easily determined that this wasn’t an honest mistake on the part of the press or the candidates themselves. The point was pestiferously lacking a happy ending or a sense of the possibility of one, and was therefore to be buried in the time of propagandist struggle. Mitt Romney did not want to bring the Republican obstructionism to the minds of the voters, and Barack Obama didn’t particularly wish for them to remember his own lack of accomplishment and political authority. Now that the stage is cleared of these troublesome political quirks the topic is again on everyone’s mind, or at least in everyone’s papers.
Such omissions in the most momentous dialectic in the country should be worrying, not only to the minds interested in the particular issue being ignored, but for everyone involved in the democracy as a process. If the politicians on both sides of the scene can choose what the discourse entails, then the press fails to be the fourth estate, effectively rendering themselves outlets of the political agendas, and leaving the democratic process not only less honest but also leading it into a state of pure flummery. It is obvious that the candidates focus on issues which are important politically, not necessarily on issues which are material in the world outside of the political process. But the acquiescence of the media to this relentless focus on vacuous details, which are only significant within the focus scale of modern society (that is to say a few hours), can be baffling. Fortunately ideas still matter, and a candidate can win a battle in which he’s oppugnant against Sheldon Adelson’s fortune, as shown by the election results. What we have to ask now is how long will this media mediocrity last until ideas indelibly cease to matter?
Fiscal cliff wasn’t the only issue characterised by reticence in the political discussion during the campaign, either. During one of the debates Paul Ryan has said: “I don’t see how a person can separate their public life from their private life or from their faith. Our faith informs us in everything we do.” The point, even if filled with fetid hypocrisy, makes the issue a necessary one to discuss, and yet there was no serious discussion of Ryan’s or Romney’s religiosity. Incidentally it is apparent that if their faith informs all their ideas and stands then they must not be paying attention to what they actually believe in very much (not an uncommon position). A quick look through the Bible (‘And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.’) shows the hypocrisy of the Ryan’s position. Apparently the spinelessness in Mitt Romney’s camp reached the faith department too: the Christian doctrine only informs what the conservatives do when it suits them. But if religion is indeed inseparable from politics then Mitt Romney’s religion should have been discussed, but it has never been seriously called into question. Being a member of a racist organisation in his adult life and willing to believe in a cult created by Joseph Smith, a known fraud, could be seen as relevant and indeed detrimental to one’s ability to be the leader of the country, so it was conveniently ignored.
Routinely the campaign should be a time when the ideas clash and new solutions are being tested against the public will. But it seems that the process has been reversed and the campaign is merely about bribing the public opinion with mendacious outbursts of PR. And in a sense the time when the elections are over is more important since the political trickery is going to calm down and some reason will sip through the public sieve. The hope is that the media will not be doggedly insisting on finding a false center of gravity in the fiscal cliff discourse between Obama and Boehner, demanding that truth lies somewhere in the middle, knowing full-well that the truth lies where it does, and not necessarily or even commonly in the middle, especially not in the case of the political scene.
The fiscal cliff is basically allowing Bush tax cuts to expire and allowing Obama’s across-the-board spending cuts under the Budget Control Act of 2011. The changes between the current and next fiscal year consist in a 20% increase in taxes and a 0.25% reduction in spending. The spending change could be said to be low and perhaps even too low considering the current budget deficit, but indeed cut in the wrong places. Dealing reasonably with the waste in areas such as the military budget and the healthcare spending will not be easy if we assume that both parties are equally sane in their positions. The same will be difficult to do about the tax increases, which too should be better tailored to the needs of the economy and the country, and perhaps lower, especially for the less wealthy parts of society.
The media will no doubt try to sell more advertising space by scaring people with pseudo-magnanimous hubbub around this issue, but in reality it’s not an immediate threat, it will work gradually over the years, and while it may be slightly detrimental to the economy, some of these ideas are necessary in the long-term anyway, and with the economy looking better, seemingly getting out of the calamitous depression, these salutary processes will make it less dangerous and less important to deal with still, leaving time to change policies. And so the swelling political cliff that the country is facing for the last few years is more important than the impending fiscal cliff. President Obama must use the political authority he gained from the pulverizing victory in the elections and and not cave in into craven half-measures which will only make the matters worse and leave the political scene in another time of depressing gridlock.
This essay first appeared in The Firebrand Magazine.