Last-minute Christmas shoppers and the Fiscal Cliff

December 10, 2012

Boehner and Obama agreed that we’ve “still got a whole bunch of shopping days before we need to worry about this.” (Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press)

We knew this was coming for a year now.

Last time, we whiffed. We waited too long. When we finally got there ready for action, our options were limited. All the things our friends and family and constituencies actually wanted were gone, and we cobbled something together using glue and popsicle sticks and put a big bow on the top. “It’s the thought that counts, right?” we said.

“What thought?” our families asked, staring at the suppurating puddle of yarn, glue and regret.

“The thought that, oh my gosh, it’s tomorrow, and all the stores are closed,” we mumbled. 

Standard & Poor’s downgraded us to Second-Favorite Grandchild.

Our children glowered up at us, out of piles of runaway inflation and used socks they did not want. “What about our future?” they asked. 

“Next time,” we told ourselves, as we took down the tree, “we’re going to be ready, and we’re going to make it good.”

And now look at us.

Christmas? No, I was talking about the “fiscal cliff,” but it’s the same principle. 

At the rate we’re going, we may not do much better. 

Just look at what people are saying. “The contours of a deal to avert the year-end fiscal cliff are becoming increasingly clear,” reported Lori Montgomery and Paul Kane in this paper. 

There’s nothing more poisonous to productivity than the thought, “Oh yeah, we know just what to do. All we have to do is show up and do it. This will be easy.” 

This kind of thinking results in trying to write 52-page term papers the night before they are due. (“Simple,” you told yourself. “All I have to do is write 52 pages. I can do that any time I like.”)

It’s one thing when we miss out on that iPod Extra-Mini for our niece. But what happens when the very people who run to the Apple Store at the last possible minute, beat on the locked glass doors with their fists and wail piteously are placed in charge of the nation’s finances?

Washington remains the capital of procrastination. “We’re getting down to as late as it’s physically possible to actually turn a framework into enactable legislation and then actually get it passed,” Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.) told The Post. 

Pretty late, but not impossible, right? That’s all we wanted to hear. 

Why do we put ourselves through this, year in, year out, every year?

“We’ll do it,” everyone assures us. “Boehner and the President just met, right? See, we’re fine. This will totally happen. Relax. Check Tumblr.”

Besides, they say the only way to finish small projects is to procrastinate on a big, important one. And look at all we’ve gotten done. Congress just passed a resolution banning the word “lunatic” from federal legislation.

We in the press are little better. The New York Times just ran a story on Hillary 2016, which, if there’s a bright center to the universe of Seriously Pressing Issues of Now, is on the planet farthest from that. 

Why are we doing this? Why do we do this every year? How can we stop?

Maybe all we need is advice. The Positivity Blog has “7 Timeless Tips” on “How to Stop Procrastinating.” Maybe we should apply these to the cliff. 

1) “Stop thinking. Start doing.” Congress stopped thinking years ago. But they still haven’t gotten much done. And it would be too much to ask them to start again now, just to stop in a week.

2) “Don’t blow a task out of proportion.” We could have called it “pass a sensible long-term debt resolution with compromise on both sides.” Instead, we opted for “PREVENT THE NATION’S GOING OVER THE FISCAL CLIFF.” What’s three?

3) “Just take the first step.” Okay. 

4. “Start with the hardest task of your day.” Done. We’re out of bed now, aren’t we? 

5. “Just make a decision. Any decision.”

Actually, you know what, maybe this list is not tailored for this specific problem. 

So here we are again, waiting for the last minute. Taking our sweet time. There is a reason Final Exam season always introduces us to several new seasons of television and popularizes Tumblrs such as “Your L.L. Bean Boyfriend.” There is no relaxation like the kind of relaxing you do while procrastinating on an important project. It has that fine sheen of guilt that makes it all the sweeter.

Sure, we told ourselves that this time we were going to take it seriously and it was going to be nice and easy. But we still will. You know, eventually. 

After all, as someone wise once said, If it weren’t for the last minute, nothing would get done at all.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.
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Alexandra Petri | December 7, 2012