The last Pope and the next budget
As long as we’re fixating on the new pope, we should talk about St. Malachy.
Malachy was a bishop in Ireland who allegedly had a vision in 1139 in which he saw a procession of 112 future pontiffs, each of whom he described with a single, frequently oblique, phrase. The recently retired Benedict XVI, for instance, got “the glory of the olive.” Who knew? Then, after the olive, came the final pope, “Peter the Roman,” whose flock would suffer “many tribulations” not the least of which was the end of the world.
So, in theory, we’re down to our last pope. True, he’s Jorge the Argentinian, not Peter the Roman. But we can figure out a way to make the prediction work. (St. Peter was known as The Rock, and Buenos Aires probably has a lot of rocks.) True, the Malachy list seems to be a 16th-century forgery, whose remarkable spot-on accuracy comes to a screeching halt in 1590. But the point is that we have not had a serious doomsday discussion since that Mayan calendar thing in December, and I miss it. The nice thing about apocalyptic panics is that all you need for a feel-good moment is the Earth not coming to an end.
Also, it behooves us to keep talking about the papal election for as long as possible. Once it’s over, we’re back to the federal budget deliberations, and I prefer a story in which nothing gets sequestered but the cardinals.
Or, ideally, we could go for a merger:
WASHINGTON — White smoke poured from the Capitol today and crowds of onlookers broke into shouts of jubilation, crying: “We have a budget!”
Inside, where the nation’s legislators had been walled off in seclusion, the newly chosen tax-and-spending plan was garbed in the traditional brass staples for its first public appearance. Insiders said it planned to take the name of Budget for Fiscal Year 2014.
Some of the faithful feared this day would never come, citing the ancient prediction of The Last Budget. Legend has it that during his pneumonia-racked, monthlong presidency, William Henry Harrison fell into a trance and produced a list of 61 speakers of the House from the founding of the republic until the collapse of the Constitution, describing each with a characteristic word or phrase. Some were remarkably apt. Future Vice President John Nance Garner, for instance, was “warm spit,” and Republican Dennis Hastert was “large gray-haired person.” However, the slot for Speaker Nancy Pelosi was listed, inexplicably, as “repair the microwave.”
The list predicts that after Pelosi comes a final speaker (“weepy kumquat”) who presides over an era in which Congress loses all remaining capacity to direct the nation’s economic affairs beyond sporadically agreeing, via text, to have the nation’s bureaucracy just keep doing whatever it was doing before.
Fearing the worst, a band of public-spirited citizens disguised as a touring Scout troop stormed the Capitol, locked in the members of the House and Senate, and cut off their connections to the outside world. Deprived of their ability to Twitter, the lawmakers quickly came to an agreement.
OK, this tactic would probably not produce the most progressive document in the history of the world. The cardinals probably did not come up with the most progressive pope in the history of the world. If St. Peter were still around today, I don’t believe he’d be referring to gay marriage as a machination “of the Father of Lies.” But there are moments when you feel that we should just get on with it.
How would you get the locked-in legislators to find a path to agreement? First, Paul Ryan would have to announce that somebody misplaced the real Republican budget proposal and that the thing he introduced this week was an old copy of his vice presidential campaign platform that he grabbed hold of on the way out the door.
“Obviously, we found out in November that people really hated those ideas,” he could say. “We’ve got something way different, but you’re just going to have to wait until the staff finishes going through the Dumpsters.”
Then President Barack Obama would promise all the Democratic senators who are up for re-election that he would go to their states and tell their voters that everything unpopular in the agreement was his fault. If necessary, the president would be prepared to say that he cried. However, if possible he would prefer to say that he won their votes in a poker game.
Then everybody would work out a reasonable compromise that includes new revenues. Then Rand Paul would ascend into heaven via the Capitol dome. All of this has been predicted by a little-known saint in the 19th century. I have a copy.
Gail Collins is a columnist for The New York Times.