Barack Obama put it so persuasively in his address the other night that I had to restrain myself from rushing out to apply for still another credit card. Or just accepting the next one to arrive in the mail, as they do with remarkable frequency. It was one heckuva sales job the president did, and as a political appeal, it wasn't bad, either. At least not for one based on the solid theory, oft attributed to that well-known political scientist P.T. Barnum, that there's one born every minute.
As our president explained in terms any fool can understand, if only fools, this whole tangle in Washington over raising the debt limit hasn't really been about whether to curb the federal government's high-spending ways. Not at all, not at all.
Let me explain. Take it from the old house-to-house encyclopedia salesman I was for a few ill-fated weeks one summer between college terms. Or rather let the president explain: All this foofaraw, brouhaha, capital-C Crisis and general consternation in Washington wasn't really about spending but just paying. The question was simply whether the Treasury would be allowed to pay the bills that the government already had racked up across the board in every department at home and abroad. And so save the country's credit rating. It's not about spending at all, you see, not really.
What responsible citizen wouldn't pay his bills, or be against the government's paying its? That's why the debt limit needs to be raised by the close of business today. No more of this hemming and hawing and partisan bickering. Quick. While there's still time to save our credit and avoid higher interest rates. Have your senators and representatives sign right here on the dotted lie before it's too late -- before they leave the used-car lot, or rather the U.S. Capitol. Time's a-wastin'. Been a-wastin'.
It's really quite simple when you think about it. (And even simpler when you don't.) Let's use the kind of homey, around-the-kitchen table metaphor that this president likes to roll out when he displays his best Fireside Chat manner. Let's talk about it in terms of your family finances:
When your credit card maxes out, why sweat and fret? Just extend your credit limit. Or apply for another card and start all over again. It's the American Way, or at least it's the way we got into this mess in the first place. No fuss, no muss, and it's so much more convenient than having to cut back on expenses, on all those little extras that became necessities a long time ago.
There's no need to change your spending habits, just your credit limit. And ... Voila! All your problems disappear. ("I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today!" --J. Wellington Wimpy, sage financier and general scam artist of the old Popeye cartoons, whose voice really should have been that of the immortal W.C. Fields cadging another drink.)
OK, so there may be a little drawback here and there to the Obama theory of credit economics. Like having to pay a little more interest. Or finding one of those credit-card companies or payday lenders who'll charge you slightly more, like an arm and a leg, for a loan that's now considered high-risk.
In that case, what about a second or third mortgage on your house? You don't think anybody will ever actually foreclose on it someday, do you? Even if they do, someday is a long way off. In the meantime, why not eat, drink and make merry? Odds are the piper'll never insist on being paid. Not if you promise to pay him even more in the future.
Actually, you're being quite responsible by going deeper into debt. You've already bought all this stuff; now you're just looking for a way to pay for it, see? Who could argue with that?
So sign right here on the dotted line to extend your credit. Easy terms! No waiting! Nothing to pay till 2013, by which time the next presidential election will be safely past. And that was really the president's prime consideration in all this politicking, wasn't it? In the meantime, live a little!
One final thought: If the current president of the United States ever tires of his day job, he'd make a great salesman for a credit card company.