We hear and read a lot these days about the “fiscal cliff.” Pardon me, but I think I’ve seen this show somewhere before. You may remember the cartoon series featuring the Road Runner (Accelerati incredibus) and his nemesis, Wile E. Coyote (Carnivorous vulgaris). I’m reminded of a scene where Road Runner, with Wile E. in hot pursuit, runs up to the face of a sheer cliff. He quickly paints on the cliff face the entrance to a big tunnel. Of course, Wile E. runs smack into it and knocks himself out. Beep, beep!

Transpose the scene to today’s Washington, D.C. The Democrats (Road Runner) in the spirit of compromise (strictly for public consumption) have painted a sign saying “Balanced Approach” on the face of our “fiscal cliff.” Republicans (Wile E.Coyote), ever willing to compromise and appear reasonable, run eagerly into the tunnel entrance, which of course it isn’t, and get knocked out. It’s all about tax increases, with little room for serious limitations on spending, especially the entitlements, which are the real problem.

I believe I recall another scene from those cartoons of long ago. Again, the cliff. Wile E., again in ravening pursuit of Road Runner (who makes a sharp turn away just in time), runs off the edge of a precipice. He doesn’t realize he’s out there in thin air. You can imagine the scene: There he is, feeling that he’s in for the kill and then looks down, legs windmilling. Yikes! His feet spin like he will overcome gravity, and you know the rest.

That’s where we are as a nation today. The majority in our recent election would appear to have little appreciation that we ran off the edge of the fiscal cliff some time ago. We can almost certainly never repay our $16 trillion (and growing) debt — based on the debt’s current trajectory and the cowardice of many politicians of both parties.

All the spin from the victorious Democrats and the press in the recent election is that taxing “the rich” will solve our fiscal problems. In reality, large, even punitive increases in taxation of the despised “2 percent” would barely make a dent in our annual deficits, according to Thomas Sowell, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

The real problem is out-of-control spending, which has been going on for far too long. The entitlements (chiefly Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security) are what must be addressed, but they won’t be. We can count on that.

A study of history is not comforting. The decline of nations and great empires is rarely reversed by self correction but by disaster, from within or without. Unless militant Islam triumphs first, which is questionable, it will be from within. You can see it: The deterioration of our culture in the last 30 or more years is, or should be, obvious.

As the administration’s second term gets underway with full-throttle measures to implement European-style “social democracy,” and our economy continues to be sluggish, truly conservative answers to our problems should look better and better. This is why our “moderate” Republicans (Moderati gulliblus) must not try to be “Democrat-lite.” That could be fatal for the GOP and us. But it takes courage to hold to tried and true conservative principles in the present environment.

Whether Wile E. Coyote can remain suspended in thin air (where we are today) or not remains to be seen. Think not. Gravity and the laws of economics will have their way. Unlike bankrupt Greece, we are printing our own money to buy our debt and lots of it. That’s not good. Also, unlike that unhappy country, there’s nobody out there willing and able to bail us out. Some might even cheer our fate.

A later emanation of this classic cartoon series has Wile E. and Mrs. Coyote seated at their dining room table enjoying a Thanksgiving dinner — of roast Road Runner, with all the trimmings. Now that, figuratively, is what conservatives should aim for by holding to our principles, starting now. It would be worth a big “beep-beep” for our country.

Alan Boone, a retired medical oncologist, lives in Bangor.