Paul Greenberg

Thank you, John Boozman. He's the Republican senator from Arkansas who now has "explained" why the president and speaker of the House need to keep their conversations secret -- excuse me, Confidential, to use the current term of art.

Sen. Boozman says the two negotiators need to conduct the public's business in private to avoid any pressure from outside lobbying groups. The senator felt no need to mention that the biggest such group is the American people, who have been known to have a multitude of ideas of their own, and no hesitation about expressing them, aka lobbying for them.

Open covenants openly arrived? That high ideal has gone out of fashion since Woodrow Wilson's day, and even he pretty much ignored it in practice as secret treaties, often promising different countries different things, were negotiated out of public earshot. That's the way these delicate matters should be handled if you believe John Boozman. It's a lot more efficient than letting the mere public in on what's going on. Which can be awfully messy. Just as democracy is.

It's much better to let Barack Obamas and John Boehners hash these things out without the presence of We the People, who can be quite a pain. Our function is just to pay the taxes the big boys decide on.

The subject of our leaders' unending talk, and so far only talk: how to avoid going over what has come to be called, repeatedly and tiresomely, the Fiscal Cliff. Not since rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, or maybe since The Tip of the Iceberg that sank her, has a cliche grown so old so fast. The one thing needed more just now than some certainty about the federal government's tax laws is a new metaphor for the old impasse in Washington. Please don't suggest Trainwreck. That figure of speech was worn out by Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich back in the Nineties when they were racing their steam locomotives right at each other -- and the country's hopes of achieving a measure of budgetary stability. Which it did after an awful lot of huffing-and-puffing that folks also confused with The End of the World.

You'd have thought the little contretemps between Newt and Bill, who have a lot more in common than either might like to admit, had been the kind of apocalyptic event forecast in the Mayan calendar, which may not be a calendar at all but a history, and certainly not a forecast. Even the brilliant Newton, whose light still shines, got lost once he left the calculus behind and dove into theology, proving once again that scientists have no more business fooling with religion than theologians do talking science.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.