Saturday, March 17, 2012

When did the willingness of Americans to sacrifice end?

The recent Wyoming legislature took an action little noted but deserving of recognition in a country where so few are willing to share any of the pain of tough decisions.

If you stopped reading American history around 1972, you’d be left with the impression that ours is a nation where people have always been willing to sacrifice their own narrow interests for the common good. As an American trait, the willingness to share the sacrifice began with the Declaration of Independence, ending with, "For the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor." Those words established a connection far more binding than any political promise.

On through the Great Depression and World War II, Americans believed in that same mutual pledge. Given today’s political, social and economic environment, how many would be willing to pledge their mutual fortunes and sacred honor?

Seems it all started to change with Watergate, the end of the military draft, the backlash to Viet Nam and the civil rights movement. Then came Roe v. Wade, Bush v. Gore, and Citizens United. It all gave rise to the politics of division. Politicians accepted that they didn’t need most of the votes to win an election, only one vote more than 50%. That put a premium on dividing Americans using fringe issues. There was no longer much to be gained by pledging anything to one another.

Division became the winning strategy. Divided down the middle on most issues, we choose sides based not on what is best for America but what is best for the politicians and commentators we choose to believe. The decade old war is an example. Truthfully, not many of us have any skin in that game. There is no threat of a draft. For the most part, somebody else’s children do the fighting and the dying. Our generation isn’t even taxed to pay for it. We borrowed from our grandchildren who will be left not only with the tab but also wondering how we could have made another such mistake.

The great American debt is another. That’s where the Wyoming legislature deserves acknowledgement. They passed, nearly unanimously, a resolution urging adoption of the Erskine Bowles-Alan Simpson plan to reduce the national debt. Senators Enzi and Barrasso have endorsed portions of the plan asking Congress to enact only the spending cuts recommended by the plan. The Wyoming legislature asked them to pass the whole enchilada.

Unless Congress passes it as a whole, we’ll continue asking some but not all to join in the sacrifice and that, my friends, is the problem America needs badly to remedy. 

The plan was comprehensive for a purpose. It spelled out several “guiding principles.” Among them, “cut spending we cannot afford – no exceptions, protect the truly disadvantaged, reform and simplify the tax code, recognize the problem is real, and the solution will be painful. But, they said, the pain must be shared. They proposed not only the importance of spending cuts endorsed by Barrasso and Enzi but the implementation of a coordinated six-point plan. Al Simpson argues the plan will work if taken “as a whole.”

That’s why the passage of HJR12 by the near entirely Republican legislature is so noteworthy. Wyoming legislators have given the green light to our Congressional delegation, providing necessary political cover to move boldly away from a Party position to a pledge of mutual fortunes. They’ve freed members of Congress from the pledge they made to Grover Nordquist to oppose any tax increases.

Unless Congress gets behind a comprehensive approach, the pain will continue to fall on only a few. Among them, the 87 members of the Wyoming Air national Guard who are about to lose their jobs and the small communities who are about to lose their post offices.

Here’s hoping Congress is as willing to pledge our mutual fortunes, as were the members of the Wyoming legislature.

No comments:

Post a Comment