BY FRANK WOOTEN
“Let go over a cliff, die completely, and then come back to life. After that you cannot be deceived.”
Does that Zen Buddhist proverb apply to fiscal cliffs?
Must our already-feeble resistance to President Barack Obama's relentless — and reckless — expansion of government “die completely”?
If so, can it “then come back to life”?
And how many Americans were “deceived” when President Bill Clinton proclaimed, “The era of big government is over”?
Clinton sounded that apparent concession to conservatism — and bottom-line reality — 17 years ago. At that point, the federal budget was $1.6 trillion and the national debt was $5 trillion.
Today, the budget is $3.8 trillion and the debt is $16.4 trillion — and climbing.
On Tuesday, Congress passed a fiscal-cliff compromise that was heavy on tax hikes, light on spending cuts and basically worthless on red-ink reduction.
Florida's Marco Rubio, one of only five Republican senators to vote against the deal, warned from the right:
“Thousands of small businesses, not just the wealthy, will now be forced to decide how they'll pay this new tax and, chances are, they'll do it by firing employees, cutting back their hours and benefits, or postponing the new hire they were looking to make. And to make matters worse, it does nothing to bring our dangerous debt under control.”
Iowa's Tom Harkin, one of only three Democratic senators to vote against it, warned from the left:
“In essence, this agreement locks in a tax structure that is grossly unfair to middle-class Americans, one which provides permanent tax assistance to wealthy Americans, and only temporary relief to everyone else.”
Picky, picky, picky.
Enough gloom and doom.
This is only the sixth day of a new year that should bring not just new fiscal cliffs but this new hope:
One of these years, public demand just might drive politicians to break the risky habit of spending far beyond our national means.
Though Tuesday's farcical fiscal-cliff fix was no grand bargain, the process of creating a crisis mentality — and of setting a deadline — did force an overdue, albeit severely flawed, decision.
With many more fiscal cliffs — and fiscal tiffs — to come, maybe we'll do better next time.
Plus, the mere fact that any agreement was reached suggests that the cliff analogy could also come in handy closer to home.
For instance, “the cruise cliff” sounds much more urgent than “Jobs vs. Snobs.”
And “the I-526 cliff” is much catchier than the semantics scrap over “completion vs. extension.”
Then again, the case for “completion” has been pushed with a “now or never” theme that packs cliffhanging punch of its own.
However, lest you become consumed (and depressed) by public-policy polemics in Charleston, Columbia, Washington and elsewhere, shift your focus from bitter outer disputes to pursuit of inner peace.
Don't let our collective cliff perils blind you to your personal potential.
Seek reassuring insight by meditating on this question:
What did the Buddhist say to the hot dog vendor? (Enlightening answer at column's end.)
Recognize that while cliffs can be quite hazardous, our species has ample experience with them.
After all, we all — conservative, liberal, moderate or otherwise ideologically inclined — descend from a long line of cliff dwellers.
From scary cliffs to an uplifting Cliff:
Folks lucky enough to live in these parts should ponder a still-accurate observation from an Oscar-winning actor who spent plenty of evidently good times here.
Cliff Robertson, who died in 2011, told my esteemed colleague Elsa McDowell in 2001:
“The trouble with Charleston — I can never visit without attendant guilt that it's never as nice elsewhere.”
And the trouble with dwelling mentally and emotionally on figurative cliffs — it creates the false impression of an imminent plunge to oblivion.
So enjoy this special place where “it's never as nice elsewhere.”
Meanwhile, Happy New Year.
“Make me one with everything.”
Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.