We have seen this scene before: the deranged figure threatening to take the plunge from on high as a negotiator tries to talk him down by taking all his rambling complaints seriously and trying to reason them away as if they were not totally loopy.
Barack Obama keeps calmly engaging Congress, the would-be jumpers, with promises to work on grievances once they come in off the ledge, as the crowd below holds it breath, hoping for a happy outcome.
Polling shows two-thirds of Americans, majorities of both parties, want an agreement with both spending cuts and tax increases, and most would settle for even one they themselves don’t fully support rather than have the United States default.
But, as in every such scene, there are onlookers yelling, “Jump! Jump!” in a Tea Party version of the kind of auto-da-fe stirred up by the burning of heretics during the Spanish Inquisition to purify deviations from the true faith.
As the President maintains his calm rationality in the face of an approaching deadline, other nerves are getting frayed.
“What will it take,” asks Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, “for my Republican colleagues to wake up to the fact that they’re playing a game of political chicken with the entire global economy?”
It’s too bad that, in this situation, the president doesn’t have the Mel Gibson option in the original “Lethal Weapon,” of calling the jumper’s bluff by grabbing him and diving together into a safety net below.
But there isn’t a safety net that big available and, if Republicans have their way, there won’t be any for anybody in the future.