Paul Greenberg

The confused young rabbi, worried that fistfights might break out any minute, leaned over and whispered to the old one: "What's the minhag here?" That is, the local custom that is to be foll wed in such liturgical matters. The experienced old rabbi only smiled wanly, and gave a deep sigh. "The minhag here?" he repeated. And then, with a sweep of his hand to indicate the raucous scene unfolding before them, answered: "That's the minhag here."

And what is the custom in Washington? What ritual prevails in our national counsels? One side of the aisle warns that we're about to fall off The Fiscal Cliff, and gives the country a preview of what'll happen if its spending is curtailed: Salaries slashed, jobs lost, the military crippled, the old and weak abandoned, and, maybe worst of all for congressmen who fly home every weekend, flights delayed! Plus long lines at national parks. A huge Public Relations apparatus is put together to organize/scare the masses, or at least public workers' unions. The End Is Near! Repent and Spend! Or all is lost.

The other side says it was the one that compromised last time and went along with more tax increases; now it wants the spenders to shut up and deal. Or better yet, agree to live within a budget. Or just pass one after all these years.

. .

But will the Republicans finally stand by their guns, or let the president play 'em like a fiddle again? (Greece, Spain, Italy, Europe ... here we come.) The suspense builds, but maybe only inside the Beltway. The rest of us stifle a yawn; nothing may be more boring than the same old national crisis. Each side is lining up its trained economists to give interviews. They're all over the news shows as viewers change channels in search of something new.

. .

The leaders of each party weren't even talking to each other till last week. Now they're saying hello. But little more. The clock is ticking away before the automatic, arbitrary, asinine cuts they agreed to -- anything is better than actually deciding an issue -- go into effect. And the show goes on. This is our minhag now: customary crisis. It's a lot easier than governing.


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.