Yet when it comes to executing the decisions that matter, that will truly impact this country for generations to come, another set of three come to mind: those who don’t know what’s happening, those who watch what’s happening, and those who make things happen.
I won’t attempt to draw parallels between the three known political factions with the “doers” versus those who dawdle, for all bear some responsibility of seemingly waiting for something good to happen to them through no actions of their own. But let’s single out that specific category of “those who do” and determine what exactly it will take to turn any member of either party into genuine catalysts for change.
I’ve studied the debt ceiling debate and the impending crisis surrounding it for months now, and three key characteristics come to mind on what is needed to address and solve this intractable problem.
1) The first critical element to resolving any impasse dealing with spending the people’s money is compromise. As often as the term is tossed about, very few policymakers are willing to practice it, at least not when it comes to debt reduction. Notice how I did not use the word “consensus.” Long viewed as the preferred term of lawmakers because it suggested that both sides moved to the middle of a particular piece of legislation without surrendering one’s key agenda. Today, that can no longer be the case.
We need true sacrifice if the country is to return to fiscal balance. Taken further, that means both sides must acquiesce to significant, painful cuts. There can be no other way. The softer, easier alternatives of the past are just that – in the past. We can’t auction off the Post Office, shutter the Education Department or end federal funding of the NEA to pay for the piles of debt both parties have amassed through the generations.
Cuts, and deep ones at that, must be on the table and proffered by both sides. There are no sacred cows. Every day, Americans understand this truism more and more. They see it in the hard realities of no jobs being created, private investments and innovation being stifled because of federal spending “crowding out” such enterprising pursuits. The federal leviathan is slowly constricting our economy. The voters now understand that. It’s time those they elected did as well, and made some hard choices to address all of our concerns.
2) Compromise cannot succeed without the second principle – the courage to pursue that course of action, no matter the outcome. So long as reelection remains the proximate goal of elected officials, we will never place the best interests of the nation first. Reelection is about political survival. Making the cuts we need to make as a country is about political sacrifice.
One thing is certain, the American people are growing tired of those who offer excuses for their inactivity. Earlier this month, a Washington Post poll asked which party Americans trust the most to address the country’s largest problems. A record 20 percent of Americans indicated they put their faith in “neither” party, the highest percentage in over three decades. One in five doesn’t trust either party to set aside its partisanship long enough to tackle the big issues. Think about that; not abortion, or farm credits or even welfare. We’re talking about the ability of our country to meet its financial obligations, and 20 percent of Americans would rather see the milkman take an honest stab at it. Hence the need for “doers”, those who are willing to check their party labels at the door, and, consequences be damned, they’re going to do what they feel is in the best interests of their constituents.
Keep in mind that courage without the first element – compromise – is folly. It’s not enough to get tough with the issues, one must be willing to not only go after someone else’s ox, they must be willing to place their own on the altar of fiscal discipline.
Reelection is the arch-enemy of courage. The two cannot coexist peacefully in this debt reduction climate. At the very least, policymakers must rearrange their priorities to the point where getting elected to office is not the first and last thoughts that dictate the positions they take. It’s happening now with the collection of House Republican freshmen, and it will only fester as voters grow weary of gridlock.
3) Finally, those who do versus those who watch must establish a process of continuity. We didn’t create this debt overnight. And it will take years to eradicate it. Just look at Greece. Not even one year has passed since the European Union chose to bail out the country and Athens is not only failing to repay its obligations, it’s piling on new ones. The nation’s leaders thought this could be fixed quickly, but it cannot.
It is in this instance where lawmakers must examine themselves and prove they are worthy. The pursuit of self-esteem must yield to self-control. We live today in a society where emotion precedes behavior. If lawmakers feel good about a path they are taking, they’re more apt to choose it. Such an outcome will not and cannot occur with the debt. Behavior – action – must rule the day. And those actions of austerity must continue whether a lawmaker feels good about it or not.
America is waiting for its next class of political heroes. And I sense those who step forward and answer the call will be remembered less as Republican or Democrat, and more as those who chose to stop watching the process and started transforming the process.