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The Fiscal Cliff, Dancing on Hot Coals and Bragging Rights

October 4th, 2013 by Michael Dyet

Hmmm, who is looking out for us as politicians play with fire and vie to be the last man hanging?

I won’t pretend to understand the perplexing and cutthroat realm of politics. Frankly, I do my best to steer clear of it wherever possible. But it is tough to turn a blind eye to the political turmoil of our neighbour to the south.

At the end of 2012, the term “fiscal cliff” was coined as the U.S. government teetered on the brink of disaster. An eleventh hour deal averted that crisis. Political cynics like me wondered if they didn’t run it down to the two minute morning just for dramatic effect.

Less than a year later, the U.S. is staring at the fiscal cliff yet again resulting in a partial U.S. government shutdown after Congress failed to pass a key funding bill. From what I’ve read, around 800,000 government employees have been sent home without pay while another one million are being asked to work without pay.

I have no doubt there are many persuasive arguments on both sides of the equation. But, from a layman’s perspective, it looks at its core like partisan politics at its worst – a catfight between between the Republican-dominated House of Representatives and the Democrat-controlled Senate.

The optimist in me – or is the pessimist? – thinks: No need to worry. They’ll dance on the hot coals for a while and then hammer out a deal just before hell freezes over. And they probably will. But the repercussions for the U.S. and Canadian economy have already begun and will continue long after the political posturing has moved on to other stages.

The real question in my mind becomes what it means to be a politician in this day and age. Already one of the dictionary definitions of “politician” is: a seeker or holder of public office, who is more concerned about winning favor or retaining power than about maintaining principles. In too many cases, that definition seems to ring true.

Politics was once considerable an honourable profession. Now a Readers Digest poll tells us politicians are number 2 on the top 10 most distrusted professions list – outranked only by psychics and just ahead of fundraisers. Small wonder that only 64% of Canadians voted in the last federal election.

Election campaigns have become mudslinging extravaganzas wherein political parties devote most of their advertising to telling us why we shouldn’t vote for the other guy. The much heralded TV debates between the party leaders are more akin to reality TV’s Big Brother eviction day bickering than the distinguished forum they are meant to be.

I do believe that at least some of our elected officials were idealistic when they first ventured into the political waters and truly believed in representing the people who elected them. The game of politics corrupted them along the way.

But I also believe that there is a contingent who knew from the get-go what it is really all about and entered the game fully prepared to make promises they never intend to keep and flip-flop whenever political expediency requires it.

I cling to the belief, or perhaps the hope, that there are still a few politicians who try hard to hold onto their principles and walk the fine line between integrity and political reality. Sadly, they are a vanishing breed.

Fiscal cliff seems to have become the metaphor for politician’s behaviour in these times. It’s all about how far and how long you can hang out over the edge without a safety net. Bragging rights go to the politician who holds out the longest. Meanwhile, we the electorate wonder if this is the time our job is sacrificed in the bargain.

~ Michael Robert Dyet is the author of “Until the Deep Water Stills – An Internet-enhanced Novel” – double winner in the Reader Views Literary Awards 2009. Visit Michael’s website at or the novel online companion at

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