The fiscal-cliff “deal” is a perfect example of unlearning how to govern. First, one cannot govern through Hail Marys. It simply cannot be expected that serious, thoughtful legislation or policy can be created under conditions little short of panic. Unbearable pressure from within and without government cannot lead to even barely optimal solutions. Some day, perhaps very soon, like February, the Hail Mary approach will fail. It will fail for lots of good reasons: The crisis was too complex, a bargain couldn’t be reached, particular interests prevailed over common interest, whatever. You can get away with a Hail Mary once, or occasionally, but it is a huge gamble to assume things will always fall into place.

Second, and related, the more we come to rely on Hail Marys, the more we assume that we’ll always solve a crisis or problem at the last minute. That is destructive of any common sense of responsible governance.