Maybe there's been a more contrived melodrama in this town sometime in the dim past, but it's hard to imagine what could top the manufactured malarkey of the "Fiscal Cliff crisis."
For weeks, Washington politicians and their protectors in the mainstream media warned of imminent doom if President Obama and Congress failed to reach a "deal" to avoid going over the cliff before 2012 hit the exit door.
Without the deal -- which Obama told us over and over had to be "balanced" with tax hikes and spending reductions -- the Bush tax cuts would expire, causing the biggest tax increase in American history.
Worse still, if no deal was made, the "sequestration" spending cuts would shut down the Pentagon and toss millions of Social Security and Medicare recipients out on the street.
But it was all a charade. Here's why: Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker John Boehner imposed sequestration on themselves in 2011, just as the chief executive's predecessor in the Oval Office agreed with Congress on the expiration dates for the Bush tax cuts in 2012.
So instead of subjecting America to endless wrangling over the Christmas and New Year's holidays, they could simply have extended the Bush tax rates and delayed the sequestration spending cuts for a year to buy sufficient time to iron out the tax and entitlement reforms this country absolutely must have if we are to avoid becoming Greece.
They didn't do that because they prefer the crisis charade. It creates multiple illusions, like the one that such negotiations must be done behind closed doors. Otherwise, they claim, nobody will bargain honestly.
Exactly the opposite is the case: Closed-door negotiations give us fables like sequestration deadlines and $60 billion Hurricane Sandy relief bills stuffed with pork projects that have nothing to do with helping storm victims in New York, New Jersey or Connecticut.
As for playing to the cameras, isn't that exactly what they do now?
The professional politicians also love the charade because it magnifies their self-importance. They get to pose as our (pick one) heroes, rescuers or saviors.
There's a third illusion: Because the crises puff them up, the politicians are increasingly substituting manufactured dramas for the dreary, tedious traditional governing processes, like drafting, debating and enforcing annual federal budgets.
And that leads to the fourth and most dangerous illusion, that the "government of laws, not men" established by the Founders in the Constitution no longer works and must be replaced by an Oval Office satrap ruling through executive orders administered by legions of unelected bureaucrats. We once called such a system a "monarchy."
There is only one way to stop a fixed game, and that is to change it. Here are the two essential game-changers needed to stop the Washington politicians' charade:
First, demand that C-SPAN cameras be present for all crisis negotiations. As long as such negotiations remain secret, the politicians will keep up the charade.
Move these talks into the sunlight and there will be no more questions about who is bargaining in good faith and serving the public interest. It will also force the participants to learn new ways to negotiate and encourage millions more citizens to take a more active interest in the proceedings.
Second, the day of the professional politician must end. For a century after the Constitution's adoption, terms were essentially limited by choice, but then careerism steadily became the norm. So congressional terms now must be limited by constitutional amendment.
Either we let the sun shine in and bring on new blood at regular intervals, or Washington will remain a city of illusions.
Mark Tapscott is executive editor of The Washington Examiner.