President Obama’s bi-partisan commission on cutting the deficit has come up with its draft recommendations, and they are fair, balanced, obvious, and, inevitably and unavoidably, flawed. Despite the flaws, everybody gets hurt, as everyone deserves to be when we elect a series of profligate and irresponsible leaders who spend more money than the nation has, on too many dubious projects and policies.
Personally, it would kill my already struggling personal finances dead: I’d have to sell my house, for one thing, at a lower value than it has now. Are the recommendations perfect? Surely not. They address the problem, however, and it is a problem that 1) has to be addressed 2) has to be addressed quickly and 3) will never, ever be addressed sufficiently if left to the usual corrupt legislative process, where it will sliced to pieces by lobbyists and turned into more pork, more lies, and another 3000 page bill that nobody reads before voting on it.
If Americans were responsible, honest, fair and genuinely concerned about America’s future prosperity and strength, we would just buckle down take deep breaths, and agree to make the sacrifices necessary to put the nation back on the road to fiscal health. But we won’t, will we? We will measure every sacrifice by what the other guy is giving up, and protest that our own sacrifice is disproportionately burdensome. Seniors will cry that they had a “commitment” from the government, and won’t give up any part of social security, or agree to be taxed on it, even if they are well-off and secure. Homeowners will protest; the young will see a future with fewer safety nets. Government employees will feel put upon. What? Less deductions for dependent kids? What? Weakening our defense? What? Selling off a National Park? What? Raising the tax on gasoline? What? Letting Sesame Street go over to Disney? And on and on.
Yet when past threats to our way of life and ideals have demanded personal sacrifices to preserve America’s strength, survival, and its profound influence for good on the world, men and women have been willing to give up, not just creature comforts and security, but their lives and the lives of their loved ones. The contrast between this fact and our current failure of will, accountability and responsibility demonstrates either deplorable historical ignorance or a shocking deterioration of the fortitude, maturity, character and patriotism of Americans. Or both.
Yesterday, I heard radio talk show hosts Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh, prophets of the Right, declare the Commission’s recommendations a Left wing conspiracy to embed big government and socialist policies in the United States forever. Today, I read the Left’s darling economist, Paul Krugman, declare that the exact same Commission has been hi-jacked by Right wing ideologues, and its recommendations are in fact a prescription for the helping the wealthy at the expense of the poor and middle class.
Faced with such astounding bias and distrust, what hope do we have? Where is courage? Where is reason? Who do we trust? A leader who had built his credibility and reputation for even-handedness, fairness, and bi-partisanship as well as wise decisions and political courage could overcome such obstacles. We do not have such a leader, however, though we were promised one. Or the public itself could accept the challenge, tell the Limbaughs and the Krugmans to shut up, and instead place political pressure on our feckless elected representatives to do what is necessary, promising that it would not be the sacrifices we would hold then accountable for at the polls, but inaction.
I can dream. But this won’t happen either.
Ethics requires making the health of society a primary goal, and we have allowed our culture to go far too long without seriously examining what that means. Now we are a nation of ethics dunces, being led by cowards, being advised by biased fools.
Ethics often hurts, and a society that refuses to accept any pain can no longer be ethical, responsible, or even viable. At this point, we are not appreciably different from the Greeks rioting because their pensions and public employee salaries were cut to keep the country out of default, or the French striking because they can’t retire at 60 any more.
Americans have always believed they were exceptional, and this is an opportunity to prove it. I doubt that we have either the leadership or the national character to do that any more.
I hope I’m wrong.