1. Opinion

Catchy phrase, but real crisis

Published Nov. 16, 2012

Most Americans are probably comforted with the news that President Barack Obama met with congressional Republicans and Democrats for the first time Friday in hopes of avoiding the "fiscal cliff."

Who wouldn't be? But as catchy as the phrase is, and as severe as the tax increases and budget cuts are if Congress and the White House cannot cut a deal, the fact remains that any responsible budget plan will include a mix of tax hikes and spending cuts. No sound bite aptly captures the myriad number of negotiations needed to forestall this plummet. Sequestration — a big, thick word — actually sounds as complex as the situation is.

Which prompts the question: Would the nation have a better chance of solving its problems if its leaders oversimplified less? Language is a powerful tool. It acts like a narcotic to excite or dull its audience. Al Gore had his "lockbox" for Social Security. George W. Bush, his "Axis of Evil."

Today's leaders are experts at dumbing down the public dialogue for the 24/7 news cycle. The presidential race was framed as a choice between going forward or backward, between believing in America or not. No wonder a nation so divorced from shared sacrifice is so divided. Maybe once we've backed away from the cliff (or gone over), America's leaders will offer a surge of talk befitting the magnitude of our collective problems. Because the solutions require all of us to think.