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What Looney Tunes Can Teach Us About The Sequester and Other Things

Isn't it amazing how almost everything in modern politics can find its inspiration, or be reflected, in a Looney Tunes cartoon?

As the sequestration rock crashes into Congress, I couldn't help but picture Wile E Coyote whose complex, daring and ingenious schemes always backfire and leave him squashed flat.

But he always shakes himself whole and staggers away, ready and determined for the next try.

Too bad the same can't happen for the hundreds of thousands of people whose lives are about to flattened when they lose their jobs and the tens of millions, in the U.S., Canada and elsewhere, who will be touched by the $85 billion in automatic spending cuts.

Jim Flaherty, Canada's finance minister, declared recently that what is unfolding south of our border as an economic tempest in a teapot because the private sector will no doubt step in. Yes, this is the same private sector whom Flaherty, in 2012, along with his former bank governor and U.S. counterparts, have been lecturing about hording cash accumulated because of corporate tax cuts.

Like the classic Porky Pig cartoon "Wackyland" somebody should stick a sign up in front of both Capital Hill and Parliament Hill in Ottawa declaring: "It can happen here. Population: 100 nuts and a squirrel."

However sad and disrespectful it might be, that is a genuine reflection of how most people appreciate and comprehend our governing class. You might say the public has always held politicians and their antics in low regard, and while that may be true, I can honestly say that in the couple of decades I've covered politics it's never quite been this visceral.

The fact we have seen only flashes of social unrest can no doubt be attributed to the prosaic effect of television, and or our steam-rolling entertainment culture. There was no TV or X-Box to distract during the great revolutions of history. Although, I concede social media is a completely different animal and a useful tool to galvanize.

The gulf between the turmoil of real-life people and the Salvador Dali-esque surrealism that passes for discourse among our political class is wider than I've ever witnessed.

What is it Dali once said?

"Have no fear of perfection - you'll never reach it."

Both Ottawa and Washington have flung their arms around that sentiment in the search for public policy. It is especially true in the sequester debate, but the political landscape is littered with other smaller flamed oit pieces of policy wreckage that only add to the sense of disillusionment.

It's no secret that sloganeering, messaging and optics have overwhelmingly subplanted thoughtfully crafted policy ideas. Whereas the calculation used to be the public good, it is now the political good and appealing to the party base, or niche markets within the party. It has become almost absurd enough to be a cartoon.The sad thing is we've had years of that and it's starting to bite us in the behind, and the pain will only get worse.

In Canada, there seems to be this endless debate about how screwed up the system of military procurement has become. The big political brains are flummoxed at how a once seemingly straightforward process can become so hopelessly moribund and end in political fiascos such as the F-35, Cyclone helicopters and joint support ships. There have been sadly comic aspects to each of these ventures and each time they blow up I'm reminded of Yousmite Sam, whose hair would catch fire: "Mah biscuits are burnin'! Fire in the hat! Great horny toads, that smarts!" Yet, he keeps on coming back for more.

What is arguably absent, whether we're talking sequestration or the latest defence disasters, is a degree of common sense, be it political or policy. Canada's Conservative government would not be facing the quagmire of procurement boondoggles if it had a coherent, reasoned, intellectually honest defence policy, instead of a shopping list strategy meant to make up for a decade of "rust out." Similarly, the U.S. wouldn't have driven over the cliff had lawmakers recognized that their proposed political unravelment actually involved real people, real lives and real consequences beyond numbers on a page and political talking points.

These days you can only laugh or cry.

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