The Cliffhanger, Jan. 21

Ever since the language of the “fiscal cliff” was appropriated to describe the political battle over a tax increase, it’s become increasingly clear that every issue is a “cliff” now.  Here are today’s snapshots from the edge…

** Presidential adviser David Plouffe told Fox News Sunday that President Obama would spend his second term “finding common ground” on issues such as education, immigration, and gun control.  Given that Obama’s quest for common ground on gun control involved describing people who disagree with him as fear-mongers who manufacture paranoia to boost gun sales, our upcoming National Conversations on immigration and education should be very unifying.

Plouffe told America not to interpret the re-activation of Obama’s bitterly divisive campaign machinery, which has been transformed into a permanent issue advocacy campaign, as “a sign that he has abandoned trying to work with Congress.”  Hey, as long as congressional Republicans haven’t made any venture capital investments Obama disapproves of, or fired any steelworkers after giving their wives cancer, they’ve got nothing to worry about.

Plouffe also stated that the President would be looking for even more tax increases. “We are going to require some more revenue,” he said, making a rare use of the imperial “we.”  That should be at least momentarily confusing for the low-information voters, but they’re making good progress at swallowing the smaller paychecks they began receiving, right after Obama vowed their taxes wouldn’t go up.

** Vice President Joe Biden blurted out “I’m proud to be President of the United States” at an inaugural party, prompting a round of laughter that made it momentarily difficult for him to continue his speech.  The crowd should have held its chuckles for the really funny line, which was “Think of where we were when Barack was elected President of the United States.”  Those with abnormally long memories will remember that people had jobs back then, and the national debt was $6 trillion smaller.

** ABC News tried to figure out the total cost of Obama’s second inaugural, but admitted “it’s hard to say,” because unlike most events in Washington, the inaugural doesn’t have “a hard-and-fast budget.”  That seems utterly appropriate.

“While incumbent presidents historically spend less on a second inauguration, it’s unclear what the total bill will be this time around,” said ABC, which pegged the cost of the first inaugural at $170 million.  We’re evidently at $13.637 million and counting this time around, “but it will no doubt be a much larger price tag when everything is accounted for.”  That would include security, reimbursement to the National Park Service, and money to the District of Columbia, which includes $342,000 for the Mayor’s viewing stand, festooned with a banner demanding D.C. statehood.

It’s unseemly for a beyond-broke nation to throw itself such a wild party – one of the reasons we’re beyond broke is that the political class doesn’t adjust its lifestyle in ways that would acknowledge our severe financial crisis – but since nobody who complained about the cost of Bush’s inaugurals will say anything bad about this one, it’s all good.

** CNN has a new poll that says even though the mood of voters has perked up a bit since November, 51 percent still believe “things are going pretty or very badly” in the country.  This comes on the heels of a poll in The Hill that said 39 percent of likely voters thought Obama’s first four years were worse than expected, “compared to just 18 percent who say he exceeded expectations.”  Fully 60 percent of respondents didn’t expect to make “major economic strides” during Obama’s second term.

The Hill helpfully added that Obama “assumed office in the midst of one of the worst financial meltdowns in U.S. history, and those polled are still feeling the ensuing recession’s impact four years later.”  It’s unclear from the article if this is an opinion expressed by voters in the poll, or a bit of leave-Barry-alone-it’s-all-Bush’s-fault editorializing.  Low-information voters grappling with these feelings of dismay, and wondering how President Obama managed to get re-elected, should recall that his opponent was going to club Big Bird to death with a binder full of women, and had to be stopped at all costs.  And I do mean “at all costs.”

** Among those Americans lacking optimism for Obama’s second term must be counted rapper Lupe Fiasco, who got thrown off-stage during an inauguration celebration he was headlining, because he spoke critically of the President from the stage.  Fiasco rapped that “Limbaugh was a racist, Glenn Beck was a racist, Gaza Strip was getting bombed, Obama didn’t say s**t.”  He reportedly repeated this somewhat ambiguous critique (which Limbaugh?) for the better part of half an hour before anyone realized what he was saying, and the big candy-colored cane appeared to haul him offstage.  Modern music is so much more enjoyable when you can’t understand what the artist is saying.

** The UK Telegraph reports “the strongest evidence yet for life on Mars,” which would likely take the form of microscopic organisms living beneath the surface.  A flash poll of Martian microbes revealed that 63 percent of them were disappointed with the first four years of the Obama presidency, while 71 percent did not expect to make any “major economic strides” during Obama’s second term.

** Among the items on Congress’ agenda in the new session is a possible end to the filibuster, a move that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is pushing in defiance of his chamber’s rules.  Who knew the Senate still had rules?  Maybe we should pass a law requiring them to produce a budget.  Oh, wait, someone already did that, 39 years ago.

** Immigration activists are praising Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida for “bringing along conservatives and bringing along conservatives in the media” to the quest for “comprehensive immigration reform.”  Unfortunately, the banana peel lying in the path of this happy parade is the question of amnesty for illegal immigrants.  Most of the other factors in “comprehensive immigration reform” are fairly non-controversial, so it’s a bit silly to portray the issue as anything other than an amnesty battle.  (Is anyone really in strong opposition to more secure borders, or more efficient processing of legal immigration applications?)

As House Budget Committee chair and 2012 vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan put it, “Senator Rubio is exactly right on the need to fix our broken immigration system.  I support the principles he’s outlined: modernization of our immigration laws, stronger security to curb illegal immigration, and respect for the rule of law in addressing the complex challenge of the undocumented population.”  That last bit is the really tricky part.  It’s arguably the only tricky part, but it’s a doozy.

Rubio is undoubtedly the most thoughtful and articulate conservative spokesman for immigration reform to come along in a generation, but the real test of his policy and political skills will come when starts laying down hard details about how he plans to process 12 million people with a system that currently cannot handle ten percent of that number… and what he plans to do with those who still refuse to comply with the system, or are rejected by it.