There’s a classic scene from the film “Blazing Saddles” in which the new sheriff of a Western town, finding the townspeople’s guns trained on him after they’ve found out, to their horror, that he’s black, puts a gun to his own head and says, “Stop, or the nigger gets it!” This being a Mel Brooks film, the townspeople immediately fall for the gag. People draw back in consternation, guns are lowered, and one woman cries out, “won’t anybody help that poor man!”
It’s no surprise to see such a con pulled off in a Mel Brooks film. It’s astounding to see it succeed in real life, with high stakes. But that’s exactly what seems to be happening in this country, with the so-called fiscal cliff.
Last year, in the Budget Control Act of 2011, deficit hawks in Congress demanded drastic, automatic government spending cuts to begin on January 1, 2013 in exchange for an increase in the debt ceiling at that time that kept the government from being shut down. In doing so, it picked up a gun and held it to its own head, along with those of all of the rest of us. Congress is now supposedly going to be forced to come up with a “Grand Bargain” consisting, if the people holding the gun get their way, of huge spending cuts largely aimed at the poor and middle class, or else a bunch of automatic cuts (aimed largely at the poor and middle class) will be enacted. It’s a self-manufactured crisis. It’s a gun Congress has elected to hold to its own head as an excuse to make draconian spending cuts of a dimension that economic experts tell us will send us right back down into recession. And all they have to do is put down the danged gun.
And if the electorate were in full possession of its wits, you’d think they’d be clamoring to their representatives to tell them to do so, given the potentially devastating impact not only of the automatic spending cuts and tax increases, but of any deals that might be struck to evade them, on the vast majority of the population during a precarious recovery.
Instead, the corporate media has done its bit to dull our senses by embracing the picturesque term “fiscal cliff” to describe the situation, as though the problem were an intractable and permanent feature of the landscape toward which external forces are driving us. Whether through negligence or deliberation, the use of the term itself therefore has a propagandistic impact, while satisfying the media’s need to stimulate fear and excitement, sell papers and draw eyeballs to web pages and TV screens. "Fiscal cliff" in a headline is almost as good as "Lindsay Lohan."
After backing his “hostage” into the sheriff’s office and closing the door, Brooks’ sheriff relaxes, leans against it, folds his arms and says, “Oh baby. You are so talented, and they are so dumb.”
Indeed we are, if we continue to fall for it.
For more details on the fiscal cliff and the myth that austerity is the cure for what ails us, see: