RANCHO SANTA FE, CA., June 1, 2011 – President Obama invited Speaker Boehner and other House Republicans to the White House this morning to discuss the budget crisis. Freshman Rep. Jeff Landry (R-La.) declined the invitation stating, “I don’t intend to spend my morning being lectured …” Despite Rep. Landry’s trepidation that this session might be the President’s reprise of his meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu, Speaker Boehner described the discussion as “frank” and “productive.”
TRANSLATION: Nothing was really accomplished.
But why should we worry? We’ve gone from $9 trillion in debt to $14.3 trillion in just a few years. That proves we can do it! Maybe we can “double down” and get it to $28.6 trillion as fast as you can say, “Place your bets.”
Some have claimed that the issue of our national debt has been overstated because we can just print more money. There goes their chance to win the Nobel Prize in Economics … no matter how easy it is to win one of those awards these days.
This brings us to the most popular word on the Hill today: “demagogue.” According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a “demagogue” is “a leader who makes use of popular prejudices and false claims and promises to gain power.”
No wonder “demagogue” is such a popular word. It may be the only word that accurately describes both of the major Parties’ most avid supporters. Of course, “petty,” “egotistical” and a few other less “politically correct” words might work as well, but “demagogue” seems so much more sophisticated!
So, let’s explore the “popular prejudices and false claims and promises” the Parties use to begin the “demagogue” process.
As we all know, Democrats are bleeding-heart liberals who would give away every hard-earned dollar of someone else’s money to God-less, lazy bums who just want a handout and are probably in this country illegally … and Republicans are cold-blooded, capitalist pigs who want to kill old people and take advantage of the poor and middle-class so they can line their coffers with more money than anyone deserves and gloat about it at church.
If you happen to agree with either of these scenarios, you can stop reading now. One of the Parties already owns your soul.
If you think both definitions are a bit extreme, there may be hope for you. Whether you survive the Parties’ intellectual onslaughts is up to you.
Do you watch multiple news channels and listen to different stations … or do you just follow the ones that lean your way? Do you read multiple publications … or only those that generally agree with your point of view? Do you research statements made by politicians … or do you just accept the ones made by those who are members of your party of choice and reject those made by members of the “opposition?” As the saying goes, “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”
With respect to our current economic crisis, Democrats (who haven’t proposed a budget) are quick to claim that the Republican budget is an insidious attempt to “kill Medicare” and that the death of Social Security can’t be far behind; that Republicans want to kill these “entitlements” to provide tax relief to “big oil;” and that Republicans want to cut taxes for the rich while funding the government “upon the backs of middle-class citizens.”
Republicans counter those assertions with the claims that the Democrats want to expand our “already-out-of-control spending” only by “taxing the rich” (who the Republicans portrayed as the backbone of America and the key to private sector job growth); that Democrats “don’t want to fix the deficit” because they want to force our nation into Socialist reform; and that Democrats refuse to consider cuts to any special interest programs that might cost them votes (thus raising fear among the rich).
Either these two mantras are reflective of demagoguery at its worst, or both Parties should be expelled from Washington, D.C., and banned from ever returning.
The reality is that our nation is suffering from a financial crisis of potentially epic proportions. As a result, all alternatives should be on the table … from taxes to entitlements.
As I described in The National Platform of Common Sense, a good starting point would be Article I, Section 8 of The Constitution of the United States. That section prescribes the basis upon which the Legislative Branch of our government can raise money and for what purpose it may do so. Specifically: “The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence (sic) and general Welfare of the United States.” It tells us that “… all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States” and that Congress also has the right “To borrow money on the credit of the United States.”
If Congress restricted its attention to those programs that impact “the common Defence (sic) and general Welfare of the United States,” delineating appropriate budgetary cuts would be considerably less daunting. Once such cuts were defined, Congress could back into the level of taxation that would be required to fund the programs that remained.
The key is to ignore the fictional world of politics and apply the rules of the real world in which the rest of us live. Think of it this way: if you didn’t have enough money to maintain your current lifestyle and were spiraling out of control toward bankruptcy, what would you do?
The first step that most people would take would be to cut any unnecessary expenses until such time that cash inflows match cash outflows. This is because expenses are the easiest budgetary element to control; cutting them generally offers the most immediate impact; and they can be prioritized in a reasonably straight-forward way.
Vacations, luxury items, and other discretionary expenditures would go first. Basic food and healthcare would be cut last. You would probably “downsize” certain facets of your life (e.g., housing, etc.) and consider other less expensive alternatives in others (i.e., a smaller car, mass transit, etc.). No one would think you were crazy. Everyone would understand.
On the other side of the equation, you could try to raise your income. You might try to find a second job or perhaps a new one that pays more. You might begin selling unnecessary assets or redeploying them in a way that produces revenue (renting property, etc.). You might even try to acquire additional job skills that would lead to a higher level of compensation in the long term.
What you wouldn’t do is NOTHING. You wouldn’t continue to spend at your current rate, and you certainly wouldn’t spend at an accelerated one. You wouldn’t borrow money to buy a shovel to dig a deeper financial hole nor would you expect some other party to “bail you out.” You would take responsibility for your choices and take all necessary actions that were within your control to stabilize your situation. Why can’t Congress do the same?
During his State of the Union address, President Obama said, “We do big things.”
The idea of America endures. Our destiny remains our choice. And tonight, more than two centuries later, it is because of our people that our future is hopeful, our journey goes forward, and the state of our union is strong.”
Let’s “do big things” starting with exhibiting an intelligent level of fiscal responsibility.
Let’s recognize that “our destiny remains our choice.” Democrats and Republicans can continue to “demagogue” to fix the blame … or they can begin to work together to fix the problem.
The Parties and their devotees need to recognize that “it is because of our people that our future is hopeful, our journey goes forward, and the state of our union is strong” … not because of any skewed ideologies that “make use of popular prejudices and false claims and promises to gain power.” (If you need clarity with respect to how weak the Parties’ National Platforms really are, read The Left isn’t Right / The Right is Wrong.)
So, let’s put the Party rhetoric “on hold” and take a common sense approach to resolving our current challenge. Don’t make The Common Sense Czar come out of retirement to put our economic equivalent of Humpty Dumpty “together again.”
T.J. O’Hara is an internationally recognized author, speaker, and strategic consultant in the private and public sectors. In 2012, he emerged as the leading independent candidate for the Office of President of the United States and the first nominee of the Whig Party in over 150 years.
This article first appeared in T.J. O’Hara’s recurring column, The Common Sense Czar, in the Communities Section of The Washington Times.