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Crying wolf

Mar 6, 2013 - By Steven R. Peck

Sequestration was supposed to be our

Doomsday machine -- but maybe not

In old science fiction movies, the mad scientist's laboratory always had a lever or a button in a prominent location that would destroy the whole place if anyone were dumb enough to push it or pull it. Usually it had a big warning signs right next to it that screamed "Danger: Do not touch."

Exactly why the builders deliberately would include such a dangerous thing in their laboratory was never made clear, but there it was, glowing ominously on the wall, a silent, threatening presence reminding everyone how easy it would be to make everything go kerblooey.

Who knew our national elected officials were such fans of old sci-fi movies?

The latest congressional vaudeville show over the so-called "sequester" adds another chapter to a tiresome, infuriating book of ineptitude being written by a body of supposed leaders who can agree on nothing except inaction.

Six months ago, with a long-term spending agreement unobtainable as the presidential election loomed, Congress and the president decided to put everything off until after the election.

And, as an insurance policy against further stonewalling, they all agreed to create a deadline for action, after which a plan so abhorrent as to be impossible to accept would have to take effect.

It was the equivalent of the "Doomsday" device in "Dr. Strangelove," a self-destruct mechanism that would only take effect if everyone had been so stubborn, so intractable, so unwilling to find a real solution that they were willing, essentially to blow themselves up.

That was how the bigwigs described the sequester -- an option so unacceptable, both to themselves and to the people who elected them, that they wouldn't dare do it.

Well, they dared. Sequestration has arrived, with about $100 million in immediate spending cuts and/or freezes taking effect. More will kick in before long unless a better-planned spending scenario can be agreed to.

Adding to the irritation quotient is the ever-changing tune Congress has sung ever since this idea was invented.

What was an eye-rollingly absurd maneuver six months ago, and which became a topic of intense urgency one month ago, today is being called by some an exaggeration, by others unimportant, and by still others the only real way out of the problem. A sizable number of the same people who said the sky would fall if the sequester took effect now act as if they never said it at all. What once was scoffed at as impossible, then termed a disaster, then the signature of failure in government, gradually came to be downplayed. Well, they said, maybe it wouldn't be quite so bad as we feared. The impact has been exaggerated. Heck, maybe it's even a good thing.

And, as always, this: Even if it isn't a good thing, it's their fault, not ours.

How stupid do they think we are?

Wait, don't answer that. Consider the line from "Forrest Gump." Stupid is as stupid does.

How, when each time we're told that what is about to happen is the mother of all crises, only to be told later that it really wasn't, are we supposed to respond when a "real" crisis does arrive? How are we supposed to tell the difference anymore?

Come to think of it, maybe the crisis already has arrived, in the form of elected officials whose main leadership trait is an unending game of crying "wolf."

Then again, maybe it's all just an old sci-fi movie after all.

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