There will be a fiscal-cliff deal.
It will be big. It will be done this week (Sunday inclusive). And the country will be grateful.
We have had years and years to experiment with reflexive, robotic partisanship. There is an audience for it. It can and does collect votes. Until the air is rent. Until the heart caves in. Until the rubbery resistance of ideology yields to ... say it ... spit it out if you must ... compromise.
To the ideologues of the left and right, compromise is the silent and sluggish refuge of the unenlightened.
Yes. Ideology is thick with enlightenment. And certitude. And doctrine, dogma, and dicta. Peddle that, my ideological friends, to a nation witnessing the weeklong grief of burying 6-year-olds.
Ideology comforts not when the heat blasts, not when the frigid wind blows.
Does anyone in Washington or America believe that House Speaker John Boehner and President Obama want to spend the week before Christmas eviscerating each other over marginal tax rates, the “chained” Consumer Price Index, or the sequester, while a heartsick nation chokes down the images of hearse after hearse carrying tiny coffins to their final resting place in the Connecticut countryside?
I know Emerson and Thoreau and Hawthorne, and I revisited them with some hope of finding New England solace amid this bloody madness. They offer none. Not because they can’t. But because the unimaginable is precisely that. Don’t blame me for not seeking a religious leader for insight. They turn to literature, too. Find an answer to Newtown in the Bible, the Torah, or the Koran and get back to me.
That leaves us with a real political dilemma and actual leaders who must summon something different, something original, something binding and transformative. Do you think politics aspires to anything greater? Trust me, it does not.
This is central to the pre-Christmas mission of Obama and Boehner. They can try to console the grieving families, as Obama did, but they know that as political figures they cannot alleviate grief or dissolve the ungodly ash that has become the life of the surviving parents.
But they can act.
They can put into legislative force something that transcends all the pedestrian, insulting, and self-indulgent rhetoric about Washington caring about the future of America’s children.
Peddle that garbage next week if there’s no deal. Sell that on street corners after the funerals and between Christmas and New Year’s when the deal shrinks before our very eyes in partisan acrimony.
Stop kidding yourself, America.
If it’s the moment for a deal, now isn’t the time for gun control. That debate, politically embryonic, will mature quickly and get to a point of due consideration and consensus. That will happen after the State of the Union address.
What will happen now is that Newtown will tell the country that America is not dying before our eyes. When Obama and Boehner strike a deal, the disruptive forces in each party will disrupt. And Boehner will dare them to defect. So will Obama. In their own way, both will summon in their voice and physicality that which has long eluded them—a ferocious, fanatic, and uncompromising commitment to compromise.
Because that’s how it happens. Leaders look at the disbelieving flock and say, “I Dare You.”
Watch the movie Lincoln. It’s an elegy to history-making leadership that transformed America, amended the Constitution, and at times wallowed in the mire of vote-trading, vote-buying, and tawdry persuasion. It’s all part of the puzzle. Our puzzle.
The pieces of a shattered nation lie in flowery clumps and on hand-lettered notes cluttered lovingly around makeshift memorials to innocent children.
No budget deal can bind us together or minimize that individual or collective anguish. But it can simultaneously make real and rise above the larded and lachrymose Washington language about dedication to our children’s fiscal future. If there’s no deal, all of those speeches are forever banished to the dustbin of deception.
Obama and Boehner know this. They will not fail. They cannot bear it. For a galvanizing and agonizing moment, these very different leaders are one, collaborating in a cauldron of collective grief and acting with the knowledge of numbingly familiar budget negotiations.
What is possible is what leaders do and what followers accept.
The nation will this week witness both.
And we will pray for everyone in Newtown, armed with a national consensus that movement, no matter how imperfect, is better than paralysis.
This article appears in the Dec. 19, 2012, edition of National Journal Daily as Amidst Grief, a Deal.