Paul Greenberg

Here we go again. And again. And again. ... For in Washington, every day is Groundhog Day. And now, once again, the country is speeding toward the dreaded ... Fiscal Cliff! Not to mention Catastrophe, Chaos and Collapse. Or maybe Stalemate, Train Wreck, Dysfunction or whatever your favorite clich may be. So quick, get the scare headlines back in type. The Great Tax vs. Spend Debate is on again, if it ever went away. With each side blaming the Coming and Constant Crisis on the other.

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But wait, haven't we seen this movie before? Like in 2011, 2012 and now 2013. Botanists might classify this bloom as a perennial -- if noxious weeds bloomed. To quote that noted political philosopher Yogi Berra, it's deja vu all over again. And again we're all expected to panic. On cue. Almost as a patriotic duty.

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The more Pavlovian pundits stand by to explain in their terribly serious way how terribly serious all this is. They need only dust off their old comments and they've got their lines ready for the news shows and op-ed pages. Doomsday scenarios are rolled out like the latest horror movie, and with almost as much fanfare.

Coming soon to a country near you: The monster from Deficit Creek meets the Specter of 7.9 Percent Unemployment in the Battle of the Century. Well, of the month. Or the week. For this Crisis is regularly scheduled by now -- it's invoked every time the debt ceiling needs raising or federal programs bailing out.

Yet the public isn't lining up at the box office. The End of the Fiscal World no longer seems a Grave Emergency, but a re-run. Despite all this vintage sound and fury, Americans aren't fainting dead away. Not this time. It's as if we'd gotten used to this drummed-up drama. And when crisis becomes customary, it's not crisis any more. It's ritual. It's just how we do things now. Or rather don't do much of anything. Except maybe drift. But with lots of Sturm und Drang, cries and alarums, and mutual denunciations. Yes, it's how Washington does things these days, or rather doesn't.

A story from the old country: The new young rabbi was presiding over his first Sabbath servic , sharing the pulpit with the weary old one he was succeeding. When the congregation got to the Shema, the prayer that begins "Hear O Israel, the Lord Our God, the Lord is One," half the congregants stood, half didn't.

Those who had risen looked down and berated those who hadn't. ("What?! You're not rising for the Shema, the watchword of our faith? Get up, you loafers!") But the other half only looked up and shouted back, just as vehemently. ("What?! Where does it say to get up for the Shema? Are you saying it's as important as the Reading of the Law? Sit down, you show-offs!")


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.