A Debt Ceiling Rant

Do I think that the federal government is big and bloated?


Do I believe that it is too big?

No doubt.

And do I feel that it is often slow, unresponsive, and overly bureaucratic?

Without question.

But do I think that it is evil and out to get us, limit our rights as citizens, and destroy the very fiber of our lives?

Not in a million years.

Why?  Because the government is us.  And, like it or not, we are the government.

From Day One of what my teachers used to call “civics” class, I was taught ours is a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

At least that’s what Abraham Lincoln told us our federal government was, and those ten words were apparently meaningful enough to our ancestors that they chose to etch them on the marble walls of the monument they built to honor Lincoln’s legacy.

Look, whether we want to admit it or not, the same government that the Tea Party and the lunatic right in this county continue to try to demonize, is the exact same government we demanded be built.

Once a week we wanted our trash picked up, so we demanded the government do it.

When it snowed, we demanded the government plow our roads — the same roads we demanded they build.

And when that snow melted and then froze into ice, we demanded they salt the same roads they’d just plowed.

And then the following spring, after all that salt had eaten into the blacktop and created countless potholes, we demanded that the government repair them.

What’s more, when that salt found its way into our drinking water and threatened our health, we then demanded the government do something to protect us.

When we started becoming a nation of two-income families, we demanded the government no longer simply educate our children, but raise them, mentor them, coach them, feed them and discipline them as well.

When we wanted to go on a vacation with the family, who did we demand keep our national parks not only safe and secure, but pristine?

The government.

When we sought retribution for the horrors of 9/11, who did we demand give it to us?

The government.

When we were in danger of having our homes foreclosed upon because of predatory lending, where did we turn for relief?

The government.

And when natural disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes strike, who do we expect to bail us out and compensate us for all that we’ve lost?

Or when we get to a certain point in life when we’re too old and sick to work, who do the vast majority of us expect to take care of our medical needs?

You got it.

Our collective reliance on government has reached such an absurd level, that in 2009 when multi-billionaire Tom Ricketts — whose family had just purchased the Cubs for nearly $900 million dollars, and whose political views are so anti-government that he continues to donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to various Tea Party candidates — sought a couple more million to patch up his crumbling, privately owned ballpark, who did he turn to?

The Illinois State Legislature, on the logic that the Cubs put that much and more in tourist revenue into the state’s coffers.

And Ricketts continues to lobby for access to taxpayers’ money to this day, even as he continues to rail about government interference in his life and business.

Our National Debt
I bring this up because it occurs to me that just as we continue to distance ourselves from the government we helped create, we are also doing the same thing to big, ugly national debt standing on the stoop, banging away at our front door.

We are looking at this country’s massive multi-trillion dollar national debt and behaving as though it was dropped on our collective heads by some alien from outer space.

Let’s not kid ourselves, huh?

This exponential run-up in debt these past few years was designed to stave off a worldwide depression and was caused by, among other things, shoddy congressional oversight dating back to the Clinton and Bush administrations.

And that doesn’t even factor in the two open-ended wars we chose to enter into a few years back, neither of which was funded by generating any new revenue, or by selling war bonds, but paid for by borrowing month after month, year after year, against a finite number of existing resources.

What I mean is, like it or not, this is our debt.  We created it.  All of us.  Rich and poor.  Black and white.  Management and labor. Conservative and liberal.  Christian and non.

What’s more, just like our government, that debt is by definition, an extension of who we are as a society.  It is an extension of the way many of us live our lives, wanting what we want when we want it, and worrying about how to pay for it at some point down the road.

And the only thing that this is more maddening (and frankly, dangerous) than our titanic national debt, is how that very same debt been transformed into a dull-edged political sword by those willing to do whatever it takes to defeat the current President in the next election.

I’m not trying to get too political here, but from where I’m sitting the anti-Obama faction in this country has once again taken an incredibly complex issue and slapped a label on it designed to scare and/or resonate with those Americans unwilling or incapable of exploring it any deeper.

From the wordsmiths who first introduced such disingenuous, misleading and politically charged phrases as “Death Panel.” “Death Tax” and “Democratic Socialism” to the political arena, comes this quaint little relic they’ve dusted off and put back into circulation:  “Debt Ceiling.”

What’s more, we’ve now actually put that cryptic, even antiquated economic concept back into practice.

Great.  So now, the same government that we’ve been taught not to trust to safeguard our most basic human rights, finds itself once again armed with what amounts to a blank check to impose an artificial and arbitrary “ceiling” on one half of this country’s economic equation.

Look, as I’ve said many times before, I’m not an economist.  But I don’t need an MBA, or to have studied under Milton Friedman or John Maynard Keynes, to know that an economic policy born out of some toxic combination of fear, ignorance, politics and ideological zealotry is not a good idea.

Similarly, all those political ideologues and Tea Party yahoos who think this country can shave trillions off its federal budget simply by cleaning up one-half of its ledger sheet are kidding themselves.

Hey, I know taxes are third rail of American politics, but how does anyone propose we close such an enormous gap without also generating some additional tax revenue and closing a few tax loopholes in the process?

The Greatest Generation
Did you know that at the very beginning of World War II America had only the 7th largest navy in the world?  And yet, somehow, when that epic war was over, it was won because that 7th largest navy, and the incredible men and women who served in it, rose up and collectively did what they had to do to overcome what most thought were insurmountable odds.

And how did they do that?

By something they called “shared sacrifice.”

At some point, our parents and grandparents stopped worry about what was in it for them as individuals, and started focusing on what was best for us as a country.  And it was their shared sacrifice that allowed them to win that war, and by doing so, pave the road for their children and grandchildren to become the debt-crazed, rabid-consuming nation we’ve since become.

Forgive this rant, but I truly believe it’s time we took our heads out of the clouds, and our eyes off the next election, and — much like that Greatest Generation that preceded us — started doing the kind of things that need to be done for the good of this country.

And what needs to be done right now is for us to come together as a people, and to stop fighting one another for short term political gains. 

We have to realize that in times like these, tax loopholes are no longer simply the generous by-products of some high-priced tax lawyers and razor-sharp corporate accountants.  In times like these, tax loopholes for the super-rich are immoral.  They’re unjust.  And, in a very real way, they’re helping to undermine our global position as economic power.

We have to realize too that what is good for one party politically – not to mention a fringe element of that party — often runs in direct opposition to the greater good of the country.

But more than anything else, now is the time for all of us to stand up and take some responsibility for the world we all helped create.  We have to take ownership of our debt, ownership of our government, and ownership of our incredible responsibilities as citizens.

And to that end, one of the first things have to do is stand up to the reactionary politics of the lunatic fringe.

I can be pretty conservative on a lot of issues, particularly fiscal ones.  And I take a back seat no one in my support of streamlining government spending and slamming shut tax loopholes designed to benefit the Wall Street elite and the richest of the rich.

But I’ll be damned if I’m going to sit by and watch of bunch of holier-than-thou ideologues (including many first-term congressmen and a bunch of talking heads with absolutely no dog in this fight), attempt to slash government spending across the board — especially at a time when it is absolutely essential that we keep money circulating throughout our economy.

That brand of knee-jerk, chain-saw politics does no one any good except those desperately seeking office and those who traffic in fear and partisanship.

Putting a ceiling on government spending at the very moment the world’s developed and developing nations are attempting to transition into a full-scale global economy (and as a small manufacturer who does business across the world, this is something I know something about) is not only silly, it’s downright dangerous.

Implementing this ridiculous debt ceiling will not only hurt American workers, reduce American jobs and scare American consumers; it will weaken America’s national defense.

What’s more, at a time when so many vital elements of our national infrastructure are in critical need of upgrading, if not rebuilding altogether, it will serve as one giant step in the opposite direction.

Look, I understand why President Obama backed off and made the compromises he did on this debt ceiling thing.  It was politically expedient to do so.

But at a time when most Americans were looking for someone to stand up and lead us — especially small business owners like myself — we didn’t need political expedience.  And we didn’t need compromise.

We needed leadership.  We needed strength.  And we needed confidence.

And the President’s compromises only served to make him look more and more like so many are now calling him: this generation’s Jimmy Carter.

I’ll close here.  At some point, less starts to become more, and vice versa.  And I’ve made my point.

I just hope that as a country we start to do what needs to be done, and finally start to embrace both our government and our national debt for what they truly are: extensions of our own free will.  And in the process we also start to give both of them what they need most; tough love.

Not a machete.

Because the moment we stop looking at our debt as a political opportunity, and start looking at it as problem we all caused — and a problem we need to work together to fix — is the very moment we will start to recover, both as an economy and a nation.

And only then will we begin to fully realize the wisdom, the prophecy, and the amazing promise inherent in the very last of Lincoln’s timeless and powerful words a century and a half ago from the steps of that tiny little courthouse in Gettysburg:  that this “government of the people, by the people, for the people…shall not perish from the earth.”

3 Comments to “A Debt Ceiling Rant”

  1. Jeanne Rogers 5 August 2011 at 4:55 am #

    I think Obama is doing the best he can with this new crop of legislators who don’t understand compromise. Your points and explanation are clear and I wish were more available and reported and discussed by the mainstream media. Obama didn’t create this. He inherited it!

  2. Chopper Doctor 5 August 2011 at 6:32 am #

    I opened my Belden Blog e-mail this morning looking forward to a bit of manufacturing wisdom to get me through my Friday. Instead I got a very good Rant! I nominate Perry Sainati for President on the Commonsensical Party Ticket. Being from Minnesota, the land of 10,000 Taxes, I am very used to paying my fair share and then some. Whether I like it or not! However, after traveling around our Great Nation this summer I sure learned to appreciate the quality Roadways we are blessed with, even with the pot holes.
    America must learn that we not only have a debt problem, we also have an income problem, both of which need to be addressed if we want a solution. I in now way agree that the income problem be solved by just taxing the wealthy, a poor man never wrote me a paycheck. We are all consumers of government services and should all share in that burden.
    Thanks for your words Perry.

    • Perry Sainati 5 August 2011 at 11:21 am #

      To a fellow adherent of personal responsibility and shared sacrifice; thank you for those kind words. We’ll get through this thing in time. But we’ll get through it quicker if we all roll up our sleeves and work together. Simple concept, I know, but it’s what we need to do — now more than ever.

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