How bad will leadership get before we must demand change?


The worse the economy gets, the angrier I become about the legacy of indebtedness our leadership is planning to leave to me, my children and, likely, their children.

As Democrats and Republicans jockey to appease voters with rebates, tax cuts and incentives, they pile more atop the mountain of debt to which we add every day: $1.4 billion every 24 hours, to be specific. That’s about $4.50 a day for every man, woman and child in the country that we’re now spending that we don’t have, just to keep living as is.

The president favors taking in less money so that the economy will grow, and then magically make up for the cuts. Meanwhile, members of Congress refuse to give up pet projects, called earmarks, or to take a hard line on cutting back so we don’t spend ourselves into indentured servitude as a nation.

As a former shrink of mine liked to say, “So how’s that all working for you?”

If I ran a corporation the way our government leaders handled things in Washington, I’d be fired. If I dealt with my individual finances in a similar manner, I would have been jailed long ago. And if I printed uncollateralized money in my basement when I ran out like Uncle Sam has been doing for years, I’d be in even deeper trouble. So why is it that we continue to allow our government to get away with such unscrupulous spending? Because, much like a 3-year-old, we don’t want to be told “no,” and anyone who is bold enough to tell us so will pay.

The books of Exodus and Deuteronomy speak of the sins of fathers being borne by their children, and their children’s children. Though some frame this as a sort of spiritual curse, I think the current handling of the economy is a perfect example of the wisdom imparted there. Because you spend today, we will pay many times over tomorrow.

Still think we’re not blind as a nation to the reality of our economic crisis? Think back to the first President George Bush, who was run out of office in large part because he raised taxes after vowing not to do so. Before him, Jimmy Carter was ridiculed for – gasp – suggesting we should cut back on consumption to reduce the energy crisis.

Clearly these guys didn’t get the memo. Don’t they know that it’s a constitutional right that every American generation gets to live better than all previous generations?

It would be easy to sit back and cast stones at our leaders, but they are acting out our desires. As they say in 12-step programs, nothing will change about our behavior until it hurts enough.

I don’t know about you, but in my world, it hurts enough.

Here’s my proposal: a large enough bloc of voters has to stand firm together, resolved not to elect any leader who will not commit to a balanced budget. In this covenant, any politicians we support must agree that, in lean years, we spend no more than we take in, and as the economy moves into a state of growth, 10 percent of all income is set aside toward debt.

It’s a biblical principle called stewardship.

I know, howl all you want about the damage it will do to federal programs, but I guarantee that some of the fat will be trimmed before certain essential social programs go under the knife. And to the degree that the feds can’t provide, the responsibility falls to the states to pick up the slack. To the degree that states are strapped, counties, cities and local community groups must become more proactive about addressing local needs.

We can certainly justify the argument that we can’t possibly do any more as a community, but I promise you that, if one-third of our city was starving to death, we could find a way to cut back on our cell phones, satellite TV service or some other luxury.

It’s simply a matter of priorities. How badly do we really want things to change?