Home / Community Comment /

What if we now set up a physical fiscal cliff?

Since the fiscal cliff threat does not appear to be working, I propose we combine the best elements of the Grover Norquist no-tax pledge with an even more devastating consequence – the physical cliff.

Here’s the way it works: Members of Congress will sign a pledge that they will collectively pass some sensible measures to assure the continuing prosperity and security of the country by a date certain or agree to throw themselves off an actual cliff so we can start all over again.

The mere threat of severe damage to the economy in the absence of a responsible compromise appears not to be enough. Some members are so afraid of committing political suicide if they offend the ideological extremes of their party that they will sacrifice the country for their own political interests.

In order to overcome that fear, an alternative more severe than political stalemate and dysfunction must be created. Something more important than preserving and protecting the common good is necessary to motivate our congressional representatives to risk losing their seats.

In setting up the physical cliff, the Grand Canyon would do. Pledge signers will agree to throw themselves into the abyss if they are unable to reach agreements on matters affecting the well being of the country.

Norquist has become the second most powerful political figure in the country without being elected to anything. His safe full of pledges is enough to make half the Congress cringe at the thought of being “primaryed” by a well-financed opponent on the right.

Like a loan shark with a fistful of markers, Grover “Big Bat” Norquist waits for someone to renege on the deal. The threat of his political leg breakers going into the district is enough to make even veteran legislators quake.

Grover says the pledge is not to him but to voters. As the enforcer, he is only the avenging instrument of their anger. He is the party’s “godfather,” who, after offering a deal they couldn’t refuse, waits to punish transgressors who defy his authority.

Should a pledge maker falter, he can expect his Tea Party constituents to summon help. “Red Rover, Red Rover, send Grover right over” will bring their hero to remind recalcitrant Republicans that flip-flopping has consequences.

The risk of political suicide must be balanced against something worse. For many politicians the only thing worse than political death is actual death. It was once believed that term limits and the draconian cuts generated by “sequestration” might spur acts of political courage. Nothing seems to work.

As a last resort, a pledge to jump off the physical cliff may be enough to prompt our representatives in Washington to stop the political posturing and find a way to cooperate in the best interest of the nation.

If not, those who take the “Sayonara Pledge” know what they have to do.

James W. Dolan is a retired Dorchester District Court judge who now practices law.