A Mostly Fractured Take On Current Events

One Thing Unites All Sides On National Debt: Blame

In Current Events, Essays on April 14, 2011 at 6:02 pm

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Some people think ordinary Americans can’t comprehend and process this debt problem. I disagree. We learn by example. And judging by the actions of our politicians, all one really needs to do is find a target and start assigning blame.

I blame Ben Franklin. Every crisis needs a fall guy and it may as well be Ben. He once claimed that “A Penny Saved Is A Penny Earned.”  By saying this, Ben gave us an impossible standard we could never hope to keep. So we went in the other direction. Americans aren’t good savers. We excel at saving other things like episodes of “Survivor” to watch later. But we can’t be bothered with something as boring as a financial apocalypse, no matter how bad it is.

How bad is it? Even for smart guys, the numbers are staggering. I’m not a smart guy. I have trouble calculating my tip at Applebee’s. So I re-frame the issue. America now has an accumulated debt of over $14 trillion. Imagine a large stack of money that totals $1 Million. Now imagine 14 million similar sized stacks, side by side. That’s how much Uncle Sam is on the hook for. How did this happen?

Let me be clear. I’m less upset that we’re in debt than the manner in which we got here. Basically, we’ve had decades of timid politicians who thought “cut” was a four letter word. I would have respected our pile of IOU’s much more if they’d been created with a little more zest. Why couldn’t the reason be that on a down night at Caesar’s Palace, President Eisenhower placed California on the roulette wheel as collateral, and lost? Instead of creating Social Security, why couldn’t FDR have invested in the losing end of a pyramid scheme involving Mexican jumping beans? Please God, any of those reasons over a lack of collective will.

To their credit, President Obama and the Republicans have begun exploring solutions. What happens if their original plans aren’t passed? Relax. Everybody knows that a savvy politician always has a “Plan B” in his pocket should the original plan fail. But early reports of their “Plan B” seem to involve asking Americans to lift their sofa cushions and grab whatever spare change is there. Yes, we are told that Washington’s best and brightest are on the case. Despite this, I still think something might get done.

Of course, doing nothing is no longer an option as we are headed for some sort of fiscal oblivion. At the same time, we shouldn’t cave to the alarmists. Despite their warnings, I doubt we’ll become the next Greece. And no matter how bad it gets, we simply won’t become another Weimar Republic. In those days, they used to place piles of near worthless cash in wheelbarrows to pay for a loaf of bread. This won’t happen to us. We’ll use shopping carts, instead.

Even though Ben Franklin got us into this mess, I still respect him as a man. He wasn’t afraid to lead.  That quality landed his picture on the $100 bill and he was never even a President. The same cannot be said for our recent crop of actual Presidents. Their leadership on the debt issue would scarcely qualify them to appear on the backs of video game tokens. Forget “E Pluribus Unum.” The slogan on our currency should now read, “A Penny Saved Is An Open License To Spend $10 I Don’t Have.”

© 2011 Pat Hester

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