THE RECENT REPUBLICAN DEBATE
This past week some of us listened to the Republican presidential candidates debating the issues while in the "Live Free or Die" state. Political campaigns are notoriously theatrical, but there was an aspect of Monday's event that went beyond that; it bordered upon charade and, by this, I mean pretense indulging fantasy and gullibility.
Polls tell us that the major concern now on the collective American mind is the downwardly spiraling economy. When the candidates addressed this issue, they all simply assumed the economy is fixable. But is it?
There is, of course, a place for optimism – I don't deny that – but at what point does optimism become quixotry or, worse still, fraud? The candidates talked about restoring and creating jobs, lowering spending, fostering a business-friendly work environment, and increasing overall productivity. Theirs was a rhetoric trumpeting fiscal discipline and conveying the happy impression that, if one but votes Republican, the United States will continue its preeminence. This is an assumption we should beware of making too fast. It may be closer to wishful thinking than to reality.
Flawed assumptions are encouraged by asking candidates soft, predictable questions and allowing them to run down rabbit trails of their own choosing. Who is interested, for example, in hearing Ron Paul treat us to a mini-lecture on Keynesian economics, or Tim Pawlenty predict how much he believes as president he can grow the economy in a year's time? Who cares whether Michelle Bachmann prefers listening to Elvis Presley or to Johnny Cash? At the risk of appearing totally perverse, let me add it also seems beside the point to listen as the candidates, almost in unison, recite America's grievances against Barack Obama. It's not as if thoughtful people have not already concluded that he's more hat than cattle.
Since Mitt Romney is currently the frontrunner among this cadre, why doesn't a representative from the media ask him a question like the following:
"Mr. Romney, you are widely recognized as an expert in fiscal and economic matters. This question is for you. Do you think that the dollar is in danger of losing its status as the world's reserve currency? If you don't, then what do you make of the fact that Russia, China, Japan, France, and the Gulf Arab states met in 2009, in the absence of the United States, in order to discuss strategies for trading in currencies other than the dollar, or that the IMF is now advocating a new global currency called the "bancor"? If you do recognize a danger in the direction of things, then please spell out to the American people what that danger should mean to them and also what specifically you would do as President to safeguard the dollar as the world's reserve currency."
Why isn't a question like this asked? If it were asked and properly answered, perhaps Americans might begin to comprehend the immense problem our national debt poses. The dollar is unquestionably on the ropes in countries like Amsterdam, India, China, Iran, Kuwait, and – yes – even in America itself, where berkshares, euros, pesos, and other currencies are now welcomed in some locales in lieu of it. If and when the dollar loses its reserve currency status, Americans will have to buy another currency or currencies with their dollars (if anyone by then will even accept them). The price of milk, bread, and gasoline will skyrocket. Inflation will abound, while the overall economy will contract. Jobs will be scarce; construction contracts abandoned; and public services all but non-existent. "Impossible" you say? Don't be too sure.
Before you respond indignantly to the notion of a worthless and dishonored dollar, ask yourself why any country would want to embrace the dollar when America is over $14 trillion in debt and there is nothing but waning public confidence to support the currency. And what about the prospects for satisfying the debt? They are distant at best. Even a balanced budget seems nowhere in the immediate picture. So is it unrealistic to believe that, within a short time, the interest on this mounting debt, will become insurmountable and that speeding up the printing presses will serve only to destroy the currency altogether?
Let's assume the most roseate scenario: that Republicans and Democrats will come together in bipartisan fashion and radically cut spending across the board, by billions upon billions of dollars, and that they will institute a hard and fast debt limit. What will such a step presuppose on the part of the country?
It will presuppose, first, a startling transformation of the prevailing ethos in Washington regarding spending projects. But, second and more significantly, it will also presuppose a profound transformation in the prevailing American view of entitlements. Currently, there are 44 million citizens on food stamps! This amounts to one person in every seven. Can you believe it?
Let me remind you, dear reader, that welfare spending on a massive scale spells w-e-a-k-n-e-s-s and militates against freedom. Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society," like so much else he gave us – e.g., the Immigration Reform Act of 1965, the escalation of the Vietnam War, and preferential treatment based on race, ethnicity, and gender – has turned out to be another catastrophic failure bearing his ostentatious initials.
"The government must take care of me" is an addiction comparable to that which is occasioned by heroin. Taking welfare benefits from a slug is analogous to stripping a junkie of heroin. It will not happen peacefully. There is sure to be a struggle resulting in violence. As far as American public policy is concerned, the choice is as follows: either resign ourselves to economic failure and our children and grandchildren to a reduced standard of living and quality of life, or stand up and proclaim resolutely, "Free lunches are over except for the most abject and incurably destitute among us."
Sure, demagogues will abound. They will gladly rob Peter to pay Paul in order to buy Paul's vote. They will sell out the economic security of the country and every ounce of their checkered integrity to garner the support of those hoping to dip both hands into the public till. A healthy, responsible society requires that politicians of this ilk be viewed as the opportunistic whores they are and that their supporters their morally corrupted johns.
Do the American people have the necessary resolve to confront this problem head-on? I doubt it. Our culture is decimated. The idea that if a person does not work he should not eat has become a trivial footnote in our history. The value of self-reliance is no longer hailed by the media, taught in schools, or practiced in government and civil society. Common morality is conceived in terms of relativism, and is subject to innumerable conditions and exceptions. As a result, a large portion of our citizenry has become weak and dependent. We have as a nation sown the wind and are now about to reap the whirlwind. Soon we will realize how well the nightmare looming before us harmonizes with our newly acquired values of "tolerance," "diversity," "egalitarianism," and "sharing the wealth" (or is it "the poverty"?).
If we learn only through experience punctuated by trial and error, as John Dewey taught, then I suspect that the tattooed and pierced "hey, dude, like cool!" generation is close to learning a lesson few of them will ever forget. Most don't have the foggiest notion what the French Revolution was, but suffice it to say it began because of a financial crisis. Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, along with scores of others, were eventually decapitated. But nothing like that could ever happen in the United States of America, right? No, it's out of the question. So sit back and enjoy another cafe latte venti along with a cinnamon crumpet; why not?
June 18, 2011