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Giving adulthood a bad name in D.C.

Washington may have glommed onto the phrase 'adult conversation' to spice up the debate on fiscal reform.

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"Web-footed waterfowl w/slight disability seeks partner(s) for discreet adult conversation. Capitol Hill area." Thus we imagine how a lame-duck congressman's personal ad might run during these recent vexed weeks in Washington.

As news reports have been full of the back and forth over contentious issues such as gays in the military and extension, or not, of the Bush-era tax cuts, we can't help remembering the line, widely attributed to Bismarck, to the effect that anyone who cares about legislation or sausage would not want to observe the making of either.

But did you notice the phrase that has been so widely applied to the legislative sausagemaking: "adult conversation"? Could you have failed to notice, if you were paying any attention at all?

It's what everyone claims to be ready for, to deal with the national debt, the deficit, health care, Social Security, all those problems with unimaginably huge numbers attached to them. Arguably, Erskine Bowles, co-chairman of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, started it, when he said of the proposal his group put together, "There's no turning back.… Together I think we have started an adult conversation."

Soon the phrase was in the talking points and on the lips of everyone in Washington – even apparently all the Republicans, those firm embracers of "family values." (Given Republican Party discipline, however, this could be the work of one person. Remember Will Rogers's line: "I am not a member of any organized party – I am a Democrat.")

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