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Alexandra Petri: Are you prepared to discuss 'fiscal cliff'?

Ah, the "fiscal cliff." What is it, and, far more important, how can you talk about it?

The fiscal cliff is what loomed over your decades of protesting that "really, what I want is to discuss the big issues, like adults."

Here's a big issue. Are you ready to talk?

If you truly want to understand the fiscal cliff, there are places to go.

If, on the other hand, you are merely worried about the talking side of things, relax! There are Fiscal Cliff Notes.

Fiscal Cliff Notes serve the same purpose as regular Cliffs Notes: namely, to defer as long as possible the realization among your listeners that you have not the faintest idea what you are talking about.

A few suggestions:

1) Try to baffle your listeners with literary references.

"Ah, the Wuthering Heights of the Fiscal Cliff," you say. "Did you know that 'wuther' means 'to blow with a dull roaring sound'? Fascinating. Does anyone need another drink?"

"Is this a real fiscal cliff, or is this a case where the Disguised Edgar of President Barack Obama's re-election semi-mandate is leading the Blinded Gloucester of Republican obstructionism to a slight hillock and urging him to leap, thereby ensuring that his self-destructive urges will be harmlessly spent?"

"I think it's on Page 389 of 'Finnegan's Wake' that James Joyce really gets to the heart of this question."

2) Pick one word of four or more syllables and overuse it. The more the merrier.

"I think it all comes down to sequestration."

"Really, what's at stake here is: Do we want to subject the American economy to floccinaucinihilipilification?"

3) In lieu of discussing the cliff, just describe the plot of the most recent episode of "Breaking Bad" you've seen.

"There seems to be increasing tension in the White House, and what about breakfast?"

4) Try to work the phrase "double-dip recession" into the conversation. This gains points, but it is possible to go too far.

Good: "We must avoid the nightmare of a double-dip recession."

Dubious: "No double-dip recession for me, thanks. I have to be in a wedding soon!"

Bad: "I wouldn't mind a double-dip recession as long as there are sprinkles."

5) Question the metaphor.

"Don't you think it's more of a fiscal promontory?"

"Really it's the fiscal foothills I'm concerned about."

"The thing is figuring out a golden parachute for America as it leaps boldly off the fiscal cliff."

"If it were really a fiscal cliff, you'd think we'd hear more loud whooshing of fiscal winds."

"What about the fiscal lemmings?"

6) Construct a metaphor of your own.

"Well, the fiscal cliff is just Ben Bernanke's metaphor. I think it would be more accurate to consider what happens when we hit the water.

"Is America ready to leap, as it were, into the sea of bipartisan compromise, where the octopi of sequestration rub their sinuous tentacles over the barnacles of revenue increase and the cuttlefish of the Bush tax cuts dart to and fro, emitting sinister bubbles, as ORCA sadly turns tail and swims away?"

"Ah, but in the giant burger of American fiscal well-being, are we really ready to swap the mayonnaise for bacon? What about the tomato? Onion? Pickle? Lettuce? Crispy fried onion strips?"

7) These phrases never fail.

(After your interlocutor finishes):

"Well, that won't help."

"I think Ronald Reagan would be very startled by the turn things have taken."

"I miss Bill Clinton."

Petri is a columnist for The Washington Post.


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