Those seeking to balance budgets seem to believe that cutting home heating assistance to needy families and denying organ donations to those who don’t have the cash to afford them can solve all of our nation’s problems. The wealthiest amongst us (and this includes more than a few of our Presidential candidates), seem to believe that poverty is simply the result of a lack of resolve—everyone in America, after all, can be a millionaire (or Presidential candidate) if they work hard enough. Those venting their rage at the Occupy Wall Street protestors are showering those camped out in tents across the nation with invective and—no kidding—job applications for McDonald’s.
Judging from the coverage doled out by so many of our national media outlets, the soul of our nation is in play. It’s Us against Them. The battle of The Winners versus the Losers is on. Free-spending liberals are fighting to the death with fiscal conservatives.
The harsh fact of the matter is that 1 out of 6 Americans now live below the official poverty line, and even those with jobs are experiencing levels of basic economic insecurity not seen since the Great Depression. As a result, the innate human desire to believe we live in a fair world with reasonable rules is crashing headlong into the fear that the world is actually a cruel charade of justice that is systemically stripping us of all we hold dear. This results in a lot of denial, unfocused anger, and head-spinning confusion that drives a lot of basically good people hunt for both someone to blame and someone to provide them with salvation.
Which leads to yet more baloney.
Making it more difficult for 1/6 of Americans to eat isn’t going to put us on the path to economic strength. The futures of Greece, Italy, and Spain are likely going to have a lot more influence on our futures than whether it’s toaster waffles or Cheesy Mac on the dinner tables of America’s neediest. By the same token, those friends, neighbors, and fellow citizens who need our help aren’t going to become any more hardworking if our leaders strip them of their remaining dignity in order to “teach them a lesson”. The ability to differentiate between the victims and the perpetrators should be a prerequisite for elective office in America, but it is clearly not the case at the present time, so we go on blaming those who are suffering the most for causing the problems—which doesn’t help to solve anything.
We don’t need scapegoats; we need solutions.
However, actual solutions would require us to admit that we are short on both domestic villains and shovel-ready salvation. And that would, as the classic expression goes, be a real bummer. Any American leader who has the gall to point out that our economy is today not a lone behemoth—and instead is a terrifically large cork bobbing in an even larger sea of desperately interconnected corks—will likely to be hooted off the national stage by posturing politicos and pundits who insist we can simply look past the rules of economic reality.
Although promising to punish our “enemies” is a sure way to win votes, it fails to recognize that we live in a world drastically different from our favored rhetoric. Pumping our fists and waving a six-shooter is not likely to produce thoughtful inquiry into how to negotiate the rough road ahead. Allowing ourselves to be tugged from one disastrously incomplete explanation to another by so many of our political leaders ignores the simple fact we no longer sit atop a ruined world of post-war economies that we can rule.
Europe has not been a smoking pile of rubble for a very long time and, the recent problems of the Euro not withstanding, it will continue to be both our most important trading partner and a keen competitor for world markets. In addition, Asia, by focusing on education and high valued-added industries for the past half century, is well on its way to becoming a major counterweight to our European partners and ourselves. Could we ever have imagined just a few years ago that Europe’s leaders would be reaching out to China to help fund the bailout for Greece? Our national wealth bought untold influence for many decades after the end of World War Two; the booming Asian economies now will be jostling for a seat at the table of the world’s political leadership commensurate with their prosperity.
Ours is an increasingly complex world that demands an ever more agile response to challenges that cannot be solved without a commitment to compromise and negotiation. Many of our leading companies are well positioned to succeed because they have responded to new challenges by shedding the habits of brain-dead bureaucracies; our national political dialogue, by comparison, seems stuck in some distant time when dinosaurs with dog-eared rulebooks ruled the earth.
Is this the fault of poor people who just want their basic needs met, some hope for a better future, and the least bit of respect?
We are, as a nation, clearly broke and in need of fiscal discipline. Do we need, however, to break our citizens in the process of balancing the ledger? We can either recognize that we are all in the same boat or continue the process of pushing those we deem unworthy overboard in a 21st century version of human sacrifice meant to appease the fiscal gods.
I, for one, do not believe we will go this route. Although some of our political leaders will continue to try to win votes by pointing fingers and dividing us for the purpose of creating blocs of voters who are both angry and pliant, I do not believe they will succeed in the long run. We are bigger than the smallest among us—and I firmly believe we will remember that the dollars we spend to nurture our citizens through rough times are both investments in our nation’s future and, in the final analysis, simply the right thing to do.
Also published in The News-Gazette (news-gazette.com) November 27, 2011