"A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury." -- Unknown
Deficit spending has been a contentious issue in American politics since we first became a country and started having ferocious arguments about how quickly to pay back our Revolutionary War debt. However, we've come a long way from those days and the times soon after when Jefferson had fierce arguments with Congress over whether the U.S. should expand its 4 ship Navy to force the Barbary pirates to leave American shipping be.
Today, we have a 10 trillion -- that's trillion with a "T" -- dollar debt. That's almost $34,000 for every man, woman, and child in this country. In other words, the next baby born in this country after you read this column will start his life almost $34,000 in debt -- and that's not even the real number. If the government were forced to adhere to the same standards we use for businesses and unfunded liabilities were included (Hello, Medicare and Social Security), the price tag becomes much more daunting,
"Bottom line: Taxpayers are now on the hook for a record $59.1 trillion in liabilities, a 2.3% increase from 2006. That amount is equal to $516,348 for every U.S. household. By comparison, U.S. households owe an average of $112,043 for mortgages, car loans, credit cards and all other debt combined."
That's why there's a certain unreality to the political discussions we have in this country. Those of us who are conservatives and Libertarians rail against government spending, liberals bizarrely say we need government to get even bigger -- and then both parties, after assuring us that they're going to reduce the deficit, go to Washington and promptly agree to spend even more of our money.
The politicians in D.C. hand out hundred million dollar earmarks like Trick or Treat candy even as they glibly promise to "invest" billions more and scold anyone who might be so "mean" as to want to cut whatever the latest non-functional, but pleasant-sounding government program happens to be. However, there is a big problem with that sort of thinking: at some point, no matter what kind of happy talk our politicians give us, the bill is going to eventually come due for all the goodies they're using to buy votes -- and they know it.
There was a time in this country when our leaders had the same philosophy as Tom Paine, who said, "If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace." Today, Washington's philosophy seems to be much more akin to, "Let's get while the gettin' is good and to hell with the sort of country our children grow up in."
Month after month, year after year, the future of America's children is being mortgaged to pay off interest groups and buy votes, often with an excuse of "It's for the children" being offered as the reason to spend more money. If politicians really were interested in "helping the children," the most important thing they could do would be to stop putting our progeny deeper in debt to the Chinese.
That has been true for years, but it's doubly true now: after the Chinese just bent Uncle Sam over a barrel and forced us to push through an ineffective and unpopular $700 billion bailout plan.
What just happened should be particularly frightening to Americans who truly understand how Reagan broke the Soviet Union. It wasn't through a military invasion; it was through economic "warfare." He put the Soviets in a position where they couldn't keep up with the United States militarily and feed their people. Well, guess what? Even though our economy is richer and more productive than anything the Soviets could have ever dreamed of, our refusal to live within our means is slowly but surely putting us into the same position the Soviets were in.
So, what now?
Well, the good news is that it isn't hopeless if -- and this is a big "if" -- the politicians in D.C. can cut wasteful spending, hold the line on the growth of government -- and we can continue growing our economy. In other words, we need to "cut our credit cards up" as a nation and refuse to live beyond our means, even if it means making some changes in our lifestyle.
By that, I mean we can't afford socialized medicine. We can't afford any massive new aid projects across the world -- we can't even afford most of the old ones. We can't afford earmarks, corporate welfare, tax credits for people who don't pay income tax -- or to give 12-20 million illegal aliens access to our social safety net.
We also can't simply continue to nod along any time someone wants more money for education, for research, or for health care -- instead, we've got to work to make the most of what we're already spending. We've also got to reform Social Security and Medicare to keep those programs from going broke and dragging the country down with them.
Conservatives don't get off easily either. By that, I mean we need to cut military spending, reduce our footprint around the world, and let more countries start defending themselves or paying for our expenses. There's no reason the United States should be paying to defend wealthy countries like South Korea and Germany. If we're too broke to spend as much as we should on our domestic priorities, then we're too broke to spend all the money we'd like to spend on the military.
Now, many of those proposed cuts won't be popular with certain segments of the population. That's no surprise. When you "rob Peter to pay Paul," Paul tends to get a little grumpy when he finds out that Peter has started keeping his money in a safe. Still, there is another segment of the American population -- a majority (at least it better still be a majority if this country is going to have a bright future) -- who want the government off their back, out of their pocket books, and out of their way. Those people deserve a lot more than the lip service they've been getting on government spending.
Reagan, in his farewell speech, described America like so,
"After 200 years, two centuries, she still stands strong and true on the granite ridge, and her glow has held steady no matter what storm. And she's still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home."
My friends, unless we get control of our spending once and for all within the next few years, the granite ridge is going to crack, the glow is going to fade, and those freedom-loving souls hurtling through the darkness are never again going to be able to feel the warm light of that American beacon on their faces.