There's been an awful lot of talk in the news lately about something called "sequestration."
For those of you who've been paying more attention to the British societal mores of "Downton Abbey" than the current state of American politics -- and who wouldn't know a sequestration if it came up and bit you in the caucus -- your humble servant is here to help. Indeed, back in college I actually thought briefly about a master's degree in political science. (Of course, the brief thought I had was, "Who'd be stupid enough to get a master's degree in political science? This stuff is even more boring than business administration.")
Actually, I did take one upper-division political science class at the university -- mostly, because I thought it would sound really cool to tell people I was taking a "poly sci" class. Turns out, it sounded much less cool to tell people I was flunking a poly sci class. Moreover, in my defense, I swear I thought a course called "International Relations" was going to be about something completely different. Let's just say I expected the classroom to be filled with talk of Russian brides, and leave it at that.
So anyway, where were we?
Oh, yes. Sequestration.
According to Wiktionary, the online Wiccan dictionary, sequestration comes from the Latin "sequestro," which means "I surrender." Which also means the word has deep roots in French linguistics as well.
In politics, sequestration is the process of automatic, across-the-board spending cuts to the federal budget, triggered by Congress' inability to get the deficit under control. And, unless something has changed since this column went to press, it all goes down this Friday, March 1.
It's not all bad news when it comes to sequestration. There are some exemptions to the automatic cuts. Social Security, for one. Unemployment and veterans benefits, too. Not to mention low-income entitlements like Medicaid, food stamps and Supplemental Security Income.
But perhaps the most important exemption from these drastic sequestration cuts? Congressional salaries.
Huh. Gotta say, I did not see that one coming.
All of the experts agree that this sequestration was never supposed to occur. It was simply meant to be a deterrent -- like the way nuclear weapons deter war, or the death penalty deters murder, or Orrin Hatch deters the desire to ever cast a vote in another election. The idea behind invoking the specter of these wholesale cuts was that politicians on both sides of the aisle would find sequestration so unpalatable that they would actually hold their noses and find some way to compromise in order to make sure it never happened.
Well, that didn't work, and now it's about to happen. Because, apparently, we all underestimated just how committed Congress is to petty party politics. (Try saying THAT three times fast.)
Still not quite clear on the principle of sequestration? Consider this movie metaphor: Think of sequestration as the 1991 Ridley Scott film "Thelma & Louise," about an ill-advised road trip between two well-meaning but ultimately doomed women. In that film, Geena Davis plays Thelma Dickinson, a passive housewife married to a jerk. Susan Sarandon plays Louise Sawyer, a single waitress with a temper and a gun.
In a spiraling set of circumstances, the women end up killing a man and robbing a convenience store. In the final scene, hounded by law enforcement and facing certain prison, Thelma and Louise put the pedal to the metal and drive their 1966 Ford Thunderbird off the edge of the Grand Canyon.
So then, what does this have to do with sequestration?
Well, in our little example, Thelma is the Democrats and Louise is the Republicans -- or maybe, Thelma is the Republicans and Louise is the Democrats. Anyway, we do know that their 1966 Ford Thunderbird is the federal budget, and that the Grand Canyon is -- what else? -- the fiscal cliff.
And where are we, the American public, in all of this? Why, locked in the trunk, kicking ourselves for electing a couple of completely unstable lunatics to the front seat of our 1966 Ford Thunderbird.
Still -- and I have no prior experience that would make me draw this conclusion -- I have faith in our American government. I believe that somehow, this week, Republicans and Democrats will put aside their differences, come together and do the right thing for our country. And I believe, with all my heart, that this whole sequestration thing won't turn out like the final scene in "Thelma & Louise."
Instead, I'm thinking it'll be more like the ending of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid."
What's the worst movie ending of all time? Tell Mark Saal at 801-625-4272 or email@example.com.