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Driver's Seat
Cliff notes, fiscal and otherwise
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With all the current fuss about our nation falling off a fiscal cliff, Iíve been thinking about cliffs in general. I tried to remember the last time I even got close to a real, honest-to-God cliff. For the life of me I can recall only a couple.

One of them was at the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River, which is loaded with cliffs. In fact, the whole durned place is little except one continuous cliff. It runs up one side of the river and down the other, with a whole mess of side cliffs. I enjoyed standing on those cliffs, as long as I was about 80 yards back from the edge.

One of the things I liked about living in Florida was the general absence of cliffs. Although the state could actually use a few just to liven up the landscape. Florida has a great deal of beauty, but it comes mostly in the form of birds, flowers, beaches, and azure waters. If youíve ever driven Alligator Alley, you know how that stretch of highway could use an occasional cliff, just to keep you awake. In lieu of cliffs, however, you can count alligators.

Florida has dozens of swamps. Is a swamp more dangerous than a cliff? If so, why arenít the politicians talking about our need to keep from falling into a swamp? Which would be worse: a fiscal swamp or a fiscal cliff? These economic conundrums could drive us insane, if we took time to think about them, which few of us do.

Iím known a number of men and boys named Cliff. If memory serves me, they have been pretty decent guys. Few of them have been brilliant, but thatís okay. Most of the brilliant people Iíve lived around have been pains. People named Cliff are usually trustworthy, competent and married to lovely women named Grace or Ramona. If you donít believe that statement, just check it out next time you meet a Cliff. Especially if he is an accountant, banker or stockbroker. They are the original Fiscal Cliffs.

Isnít it a bit late for the country to be in a tizzy about falling over a fiscal cliff? We actually fell off the Wall Street cliff more than four years ago. You can still count the mangled bodies and wrecked homes lying at the base of the cliff. Today if you stand in a crowd and toss 20 pinto beans into the air, at least 10 of them will land on someone whoís fallen off his/her own fiscal cliff, and who may still be falling.

Even in good times, most people live on the edge of a fiscal cliff. Sooner or later we are all cliff dwellers, arenít we? And you canít tell who is or is not a cliff dweller just by appearances. Here comes Reginald Wanker in his new Maserati, with his gorgeous girl friend Botox Beulah by his side. Youíd never guess that Reggie was a cliff dweller, but he is. If he misses a couple of payments to his bank or his bookie, heís gone.

Other kinds of cliffs abound, not just fiscal. One of the most common is the romantic cliff. Millions of couples are wandering around, stars in their eyes, believing they have found the perfect mates, not knowing that their sweethearts may well be perfidious hound dogs who will desert them within a year, taking their bank accounts and the good silver with them. If fiscal cliffs have a common theme song, it may be the wedding march.

Oddly enough, many people who have survived fiscal cliffs later look back without regret on the entire experience. They donít deny the horrors of being broke, but they prefer to recall the almost joyous intensity of having their backs against the wall and suddenly realizing that, after they get through this nightmare, nothing and nobody will ever scare them again.

If nothing else, Americaís current flirtation with the fiscal cliff has forced the two major political parties to sit down with each other and talk. What will come out of these discussions is unclear, as I write this. But at the very least the jawboning between Obama and Congress is better than the mutual sniping thatís been going on for the past two years or more.

One thing is certain: the economic alarm bells are ringing. Theyíre heralding a world unlike anything weíve seen before. The USA is no longer the unchallenged alpha dog. Instead, weíre in a global kennel, with all manner of yapping and snarling going on. Sort of makes you long for the good old days, when the USA and the Soviet Union were the only big dogs to worry about. Isnít it time I dropped these canine comparisons? I think so.

Bob Driver is a former columnist and editorial page editor for the Clearwater Sun. Send him an email at tralee71@comcast.net.
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