Friday, July 29, 2011

What The Debt Crisis Says About America

If you survey the media commenting on the United States debt crisis, from news programs, to blogs, to Op Ed pages, to talk radio, you get an overwhelming sense that a) American citizens are not really sure what the debt ceiling is and what defaulting on our debt obligations means, b) the Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill are in no hurry to explain it to their constituencies, except in terms that denigrate their opposition, c) the President, true-to-form, is trying to get Congress to do its job without having to do it for them, and d) no one can agree on what the actual impact of a Federal default would be, good, bad, or otherwise.

It is interesting to note, in light of the goings-on, that something that is a duty of the Congress -- protecting the economic health, safety, and prestige -- has now become a lightning rod for politicking, a generator of hyperbole, and a highly-visible failure of our national government. No other nation would think to risk its economic power and standing in the world by allowing what should be a trivial matter -- maintaining a balanced budget and protecting the debt it has incurred -- to become a political hot potato. Many a government (Greece, Spain, Mexico, Ireland, etc.) have found themselves in financial dire straits, but have also managed to go about doing what was necessary to bring those conditions under control, even where that meant ceding economic power to other nations in return for loan guarantees. It has not looked good for the presiding government, but austerity and outside help looked a lot better than allowing their nation to collapse.

So what is our problem? Why have we, still the largest economy in the world, let our economic house fall into such disarray. My friends, we have only ourselves to blame.

Those in Congress right now, with their fingers on the button of economic doom, the Boehners, the Cantors, the Reids, the McConnells, the Ryans, the Walshes... they have had it in their power in the last decade to avoid this fate. When President Bill Clinton left office, there was a balanced budget and budget surpluses, which came even though the White House was under assault and the Congress was diametrically opposed to the President. Even then, at what could be considered the height of the Democratic-Republican Cold War, both sides were able to compromise, get work done, and fix what ailed America. They did it through budget cuts, tax hikes, tax code changes, and belt tightening. That moment, should have marked a point where it was obvious to all, that bipartisanship and compromise were not only possible, but beneficial, for the long-term health and growth of the nation.

It would be easy to beat up George W. Bush at this point, for with his arrival, and the arrival of his policies, that moment disappeared into oblivion, but he is not the true bogeyman here. Many of those who had just worked with the Clinton White House to bring the budget and the debt to heel, suddenly lost their minds. For whatever reason, their pledges of fiscal restraint disappeared in a puff of smoke, well before planes slammed into the Twin Towers. Already, with President Clinton gone, the pledges of fiscal responsibility were so many damp and discarded cocktail napkins in Washington, D.C. bars. Now, Congress went to town, urged on by President Bush, who took September 11th as a cue to capitalize on the suddenly loosened Federal wallet. Tax cuts, not for those in the Middle Class who needed them, but for the wealthy who didn't, reared their heads. A Medicare Prescription mandate, long overdue and necessary, was implemented, but with no actual way to pay for it. Wars were launched, which in hindsight, were not necessarily in our best interests, done so with no sources of revenue to fund them. It was a time of free spending, "free market" tinkering, and blindness to what had only been apparent a few years earlier.

Then, in 2007 and 2008, came the hangover.

The housing market collapsed. Wall Street found itself awash in bad debt of its own creation. Markets floundered. Foreclosures rose. Jobs, which had been slowly leaving the nation for warmer, sunnier, cheaper climes, now packed up and disappeared in droves. As money slowly drained out of the economy, tax revenues dried up, even as expenditures climbed. America went from fiscally sound to treading water in the short span of a decade. And it did so with the help pf some of the same people who are now threatening to wreck what is left of our fiscal autonomy.

This is not about who can win the 2012 Presidential Election. This is not about who is right or wrong. This is about restoring order. This is about getting back to the nation of 2000, the one that was able to bring its fiscal house in order despite party differences. This is about showing that we can govern ourselves, as the Founding Fathers intended.

While it is highly unlikely that, in the end, anyone in Washington, D.C. will actually allow a default to occur, the damage is done. We have been made to look foolish by a bunch of bumbling, self-absorbed, hypocrites, the very same people, in many cases, who were there in 2000 when they were able to work out their differences. Now, in an all-out effort to discredit a Democratic President and "ensure" a Republican victory in 2012, they have engaged in an insipid campaign to ruin the Federal government, which only stands to destroy our standing in the world and hurt the vast majority of Americans who depend on the government's assistance to help them make it through the current economic crisis. And they have done it, with the tacit approval of many of those self-same Americans, who have sold their votes to people who have no intention of protecting them from the very vagaries they create.

It's simple, America -- we can no longer afford to allow our government to be twisted into a perverted political party machine. We can no longer allow those who seek power, wealth, and self-aggrandizement to run our nation. We can no longer trust those who say they know what is best for us, when they have no means to back up their assertions. It is time for We, The People, to reassert control of the nation; come next year, it is time to sweep out the detritus of politics, and replace it with the strength of governance. We can not afford to go through such a disastrous period ever again.

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