Wall Street, Washington, and the triumph of Wile E. Coyote

Congress closely observes The Warner Brothers Laws of Physics. Photo: Warner Bros.

WASHINGTON, December 31, 2012 – It’s somehow comforting to know that, as 2012 draws its final metaphorical breaths today, nothing in Washington has changed. The old Congress, too, is drawing its last breaths, shortly to be replaced by a new Congress that won’t skip a single dysfunctional beat. Wall Street already expressed its disgust for this behavior last week, but it didn’t make a particle of difference, except to your now-smaller 401(k). That’s continuity for you. The whole miserable spectacle of highly-compensated incompetence reminds us of that classic Warner Brothers cartoon character, Wile E. Coyote.

Wile E.—he of the famous, never-ending, and generally suicidal attempts to corral, roast, and then devour the speedy Roadrunner—himself must have been (or still is) overcompensated for whatever he does, given his endless ability to purchase the latest murderous contraptions from the Acme Everything company or invent Rube Goldberg devices of his own design geared toward accomplishing the same tasty endgame.

Every one of his devices or inventions proved counterproductive, of course, sometimes due to design flaws, sometimes due to incorrect deployment, but usually due to the endlessly creative incompetence of that nightmare user of users, Wile E. Coyote himself. Whether pancaked by a giant, falling anvil, or poofing into a cloud of oblivion on the Grand Canyon floor after an unexpected cliff dive, Wile E. never gave up his pursuit of the Roadrunner, learning nothing from each exercise save the necessity of trying yet again.

Perhaps the most amusing element of Wile E.’s endless failures, however, was the fact that many of them studiously adhered to the Warner Brothers Laws of Physics with regard to the trajectory of falling objects.

In pursuit of the Roadrunner, Wile E. frequently found himself running, tumbling, or simply walking off a cliff. But, unlike the rest of us who live on this physical plain, Wile E. was able to run, tumble, or saunter off the edge of a cliff at least initially without falling. The reason why? Wile E.’s physical plane, located in ToonTown, always adhered to a key axiom of the Warner Brothers Laws of Physics as it applied to (presumably) sentient falling objects. To wit: a Toon character who walks off said cliff will never fall until and unless he actually looks down and perceives he has indeed been walking on empty space.

At this point, Warner’s Toon Physics generally permit the doomed character to stare briefly into the camera with a look of resignation before the inevitable consequences kick in. In Wile E.’s case, the hapless coyote often inexplicably revealed a sign or placard distilling this understanding before quickly plunging, double time, to his miserable cartoon death. Which, of course, was quickly reversed, allowing him to reappear in the very next scene, often with little sign of awareness or wear.

If you think about it, the twin disasters of Obamacare and Dodd-Frank aside, this has been precisely the non-governance pattern of Congress and the White House since January 2009, regardless of which party held the reins or where.

Apparently enjoying this spectacle as much as they enjoy Roadrunner cartoons, the electorate—after firing what seemed to be a convincing warning shot in the 2010 elections to stymie further Obamacare-like disasters—essentially re-elected the same players for at least two more years. Today, those results will play out when either nothing, or something that closely resembles nothing, wraps up the year 2012 and (pretty much) the lame duck Congress before it gives way to the new 2013-edition lame duck Congress.

Successfully played for fools, the electorate will likely face substantially increased taxes on January 2, even if some of these tax hikes get rolled back later in the Congressional session. Meanwhile, the cardboard cut-out Socialist who yet occupies the White House will repeat the usual ritual of “calling Congressional leaders to the White House” to listen to the same empty lectures of the past four years and then terminating the meeting with the usual empty, hypocritical fusillades against the intransigence of the “Party of the Rich.”

Democrats will return to the Hill chortling, ready to resume what the do best—doing nothing while collecting fat paychecks. Republicans will collect the same fat paychecks, having cooperated briefly with the Democrats to give them all raises for jobs well done. At which point, however, Republicans and their supporters will hang their heads and declare that there’s no way to win. Which there isn’t if you insist on imagining that there’s no way to win.

But it’s at this point that we’ll notice a difference between taxpayers and their elected officials. Taxpayers always have a tendency to look down when they walk off a cliff. And we know what that means. For us, our future, our kids, and our quality of life. All of which will fade into that faint poof of dust at the canyon base hundreds of feet below when we look down and view the abyss. After which, most of us will never get up.

But politicians of all stripes are paradoxically a lot smarter than they seem. Headed out and over a cliff like us, they’ve learned from the failures of Wile E. Coyote. Unlike Wile E.—or us—they never, ever look down.

Happy New Year.



Read more of Terry’s news and reviews at Curtain Up! in the Entertain Us neighborhood of the Washington Times Communities. For Terry’s investing and political insights, visit his Communities columns, The Prudent Man and Morning Market Maven, in Business.

Follow Terry on Twitter @terryp17


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Terry Ponick

Now writing on investing, politics, music, movies and theater for the Washington Times Communities, Terry was formerly the longtime music and culture critic for the Washington Times print edition (1994-2009) before moving online with Communities in 2010.  



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