We've been engaging in a long list of destructive behaviors for a while now, and we seem to lack either the desire or the ability for meaningful change. "Hey, we're fine" we might say. "Yeah, things aren't perfect for us, but we can stop if we have to, and we really only need a few minor adjustments." Yet somewhere deep inside we know this is the voice of denial. We've run up the VISA, the MasterCard, and borrowed against our house. We've lost our jobs, the kids fight constantly, and that back door is in a state of complete disrepair. In our mouth burns a freshly lit federal agency (it calms the nerves, of course). We now smoke continuously, pausing intermittently for hasty swigs of our favorite 80-proof Middle Eastern war.
We have a problem.
And this is our intervention.
Let's begin with where we are at this very moment. Our national debt has passed $15 trillion and is still climbing. We will add another one and a half trillion in 2011. Neither President Obama's plan nor the Paul Ryan plan make the debt to GDP ration less than 60% by 2020. The Bowles-Simpson proposal, arguably the most comprehensive, would have not had us spending less than we take in until some time in the 2030's, roughly four or five presidents from now. Of course, the Super ( or more accurately, "par for the course") Committee was not able to adopt any of the Bowles-Simpson plan, so it's clear that even the most workable or timid path of deficit reduction is not likely to be made law any time soon.
That brings us to a divided, hyper-partisan Congress, whose approval rating hovers in the low teens, placing them somewhere north of Benito Mussolini, but lagging behind Lebron James, kidney stones, and getting punched in the face. And yet, despite abysmal job approval and an anti-incumbency fervor, more than half of us want to see our representatives win re-election. We enjoy the power and influence of our own member of Congress, believing the other guy to be the problem. We preach against government waste and pork, the smell of bacon still on our breath.
Abroad, things may not be much better. We have 900 military bases worldwide in over 130 countries. The war in Iraq has officially ended, and not a moment too soon, as many in our government start marching towards Iran, the drums of war beating. Syria may not be far behind, and then Pakistan, and then...
At home we have lost the ability to take care of ourselves. Nearly 20% of personal income comes from government assistance. We have believed we could be made safe by subordinating ourselves to the Patriot Act and the TSA. Yesterday, December 15, on the anniversary of the Bill of Rights, the Senate sent to the President for signature the National Defense Authorization Act, which allows the military or civilian law enforcement to hold indefinitely those suspected of terrorism or loosely associated with them. This includes American citizens.
So we come to the cold hard truth.
We. must. stop. The status quo cannot be maintained. The button we mistakenly labeled auto-pilot is in fact self-destruct. If we wish to avoid financial disaster, and preserve for future generations the supernal gift of liberty, we must change.
We can no longer be all things to all people. The rich may have to give up their tax cuts. The poor and middle class may see a reduction in their favorite government programs. Some of these programs may cease to exist at all. A lifetime of intemperance now calls for a season of restraint.
Some might say this gloomy forecast gives us no reason to hope. Who would even favor such a thing? Why should we pay more to get less? But let us be clear, this is not a national austerity agenda, as much as an agenda of national sobriety. And for that, we have reason to hope.
Think of the alcoholic who has taken his last drink, or the pack a day smoker who has had her last taste of nicotine. We even have hope for the cancer patient in the throes of chemotherapy, knowing that tomorrow can bring health and happiness, but only because the diagnosis was made. And so is the former smoker suffering painful withdrawals better off than the one that won't try. The alcoholic who has recognized the devastation of his addiction can believe in a better life while the denying drunk can only despair.
We do have reason to hope, and we can believe again in liberty and our sacred Constitution.
We can save the "last, best hope of earth" and preserve it for future generations. In the words of Henry Van Dyke, "